Christine Jowers/Follow @cmmjowers on Instagram

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Published on April 22, 2015
Maria Baranova

Concept/Direction/Choreography: David Neumann
Sound Design/Performer: Tei Blow
Associate Sound Designer: Eben Hoffer
Text: Sibyl Kempson with David Neumann
Performers: Tei Blow, John Gasper, Karen Kandel, David Neumann
Lighting Design: Chloe Brown; Video Design: Christine Shallenberg; Set Design: Mimi Lien
Stage: Manager: Merrick A.B. Williams; Costume Design: Erica Sweeney

Seen On April 17, 2015
Abron’s Art Center -Henry Street Settlement
I UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING BETTER continues this weekend for more info contact Abrons Art Center website

An epic moment in David Neumann’s intriguing Advanced/Beginner Group production, I UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING BETTER, finds the lead actor, (Neumann), looming large and regal — albeit dazed— amidst  a mountain of blowing plastic. Lights flash, perilous winds blow, the stage appears awash in danger and the world is in peril. Suddenly (and surprisingly), 60’s counter-culture guru Timothy Leary, of “turn on, tune in drop out” fame, arrives at the scene in the form of performer/DJ, Tei Bow. His image projected in psychedelic colors on a video screen, Leary reminds the hero that, “Your consciousness, in separating from the physical frame of reference, may cause you to experience various unusual body sensations.”

In I UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING BETTER we confront momentous, life-altering tempests. Super Storm Sandy engulfs us by way of blustering weather broadcasts reported by the meteorologist, Neumann, his voice breaking up and changing pitch as he’s slammed by nature and forced into a dance with his microphone. While atmospheric conditions attack, a hero/king also played by Neumann, is dying. This character is inspired by the choreographer’s father, the experimental-theater actor and one of the original founders of Mabou Mines, Frederick Neumann. Tonight we accompany this important man through his own personal storm, his final journey from the earth.

David Neumann/ Photo Maria Baranova

Neumann experienced Hurricane Sandy as a central dramatic event linking the death of both his parents. In the program notes he describes his mother, Honorara Ferguson (also a veteran actor with Mabou Mines), slipping away quietly the summer before the October 2012 storm, while his dad died a month after it landed. I UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING BETTER reflects Neumann’s experience of his father’s death.

Under the influence of Japanese Noh theater, with a brilliantly layered script; precise, ritualized choreography that can appear serene, poignant, or comical; crashing rock music; and vibrant multi-media images, the expert players of the Advanced/ Beginner Group morph into the many storytellers we need to organize this profound chaos.

A chorus of three performers dressed in black invite us to see how the story unfolds. Blow, John Gasper, and Karen Kandel alternatively embody hospice workers, rock musicians; characters in the old king's fantasies, and narrators. While their main function is to care for and prepare the king for his trip, they also tether us to the earth. They tell us where we are and remind us that our perception of reality will come into question at times. Storms, whether external or internal, blur lines.

Advanced/Beginner Group: David Neumann, John Gasper /Photo Maria Baranova

The set appears as part home and part dilapidated structure. At times we focus on the most familiar, personal mementos: books, a coffee pot, a wooden birdhouse, a piece of bamboo in a cup, and a Bonsai tree. Clear plastic trash bags hovering above backstage-center play dual roles as clouds and blown refuse. A chair can be a chair, or a hospital bed, or something the characters in black use when they chase the old man/the king. Three rocks live on the stage, closer to the audience than the players. While never referred to, they may remind anyone paying attention of the stones Jews put on the graves of their dead to commemorate them and acknowledge there still is a bond.

Advanced/Beginner Group: John Gasper, David Neumann, Karen Kandel/ Photo Maria Baranova

Whoever Neumann is in the tale—whether the lead actor/king, with his curious bird/branch crown pronouncing himself magnificently in the bold low steps of a Kabuki artist; or the meteorologist in his tattered coat; or the old man pondering the universe falling through a hole in the roof --we are riveted to him. He switches roles so effortlessly we aren’t even disconcerted when for a minute he looks directly at us to be “real” and perhaps use some “grant language”.

Yet it doesn’t seem like grant language when Neumann admits that his parents are still with him, in his body, “still aging, still dying.”

Walking into the warm spring night after the show, and even now a few days later, I am moved by these words. I don’t know about everything, but this I truly understand.


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