The life of St. Francis of Assisi was dramatic. A child of a wealthy Italian merchant, he had a young 12th-century playboy who was imprisoned for a year in the war. He had a mysterious vision, stealing from his disapproved father to give to the church, and devoting himself to his poor life in imitation of Christ, establishing a religious order. He saw God in nature, thanked the sun, and preached to birds — setting an example of equality and ecology, followed by many, including the current Pope.
Most of this drama is “God fool, “A dance theater piece about Francis that opened at Ellen Stewart Theater in Lamama on Thursday. And, despite being devised and directed by Martha Clark, the creator of many acclaimed dance theater works, “God’s Fool” contains few dance theaters.
Instead, Francis (Patrick Andrews) and his followers wander the gravel-covered stage, mostly in the robes of their brothers, to talk about God and faith. When in doubt, they sing.
Singing with almost no accompaniment is great, so it doesn’t matter in itself. Arranged and directed by Arthur Solari, this work helps the obscured cast establish the world from the beginning as it begins the Easter All-Night Vigil. And frequent retreats to the song give the feeling of a confused flock sticking to fellowship.
However, singing contributes to some of the show’s time and genre confusion. The choice has been lost in African-American spirituals and some Gustav Mahler since the days of Francis. We are definitely not in Assisi when Francis rushes into a Broadway-style duet with his flock of female members Claire and the American folk song “The Wayfaring Stranger.”
Andrews Francis is completely American and lost. In a sense, he wouldn’t look out of place in David Mamet’s play or “rent.” He shakes his mood, laughs hysterically, cries as needed, and moons nature like a beat poet. The saint must have been a destructive and embarrassing person, but when Francis’s indignation father called him ass and kid, he felt very accurate.
This core performance is in conflict with Fanny Howe’s poetic text. The script is preliminary, alternating between scenes that are the exchange of fragments rather than soliloquy and naturalistic dialogue. Typical ones are as follows.
Francis: Defeat Leo.
Leo: I can’t beat Francis.
Luka: I need to attend Circus, Francis.
François: I should die.
Delivery makes this and many similar exchanges unintentionally into comics. Veteran performance artist John Kerry plays the red-horned demon that accompanies Francis and his followers, offering deliberate comedy and Commedia dell’arte flavors. But Kelly, the oversized animal heads (masked by Margie Javis), and the movements between scenes (wind blows and those who carry Francis over) add strangeness and need to production. There is not enough compensation.
And while some of the dramatic events in Francis’ life are covered-abuse from his father, preaching to birds, the appearance of stigmata, and more boldly kissing Claire and the devil-mostly. You don’t come across anything compelling or brilliant.
What resonates with the song is what is not sung but lurks in Howe’s words. “A world revelation just an inch from our senses, such as an invisible perfume, a perfume caught from a tree in May.” What the “Fool of God” may have revealed.
At the Ellen Stewart Theater until July 2nd. lamama.org.