But there were some formatting problems (that are hopefully getting worked out) and so a few grafs at the end got cut off. So here it is in its entirety.
Teresa Harrison adapted and stars in Allen Ginsberg's Howl, serving as host and carnival barker. (Marcin Mroz) (via the Denver Post)
ALLEN GINSBERG’S HOWL
The history of humankind is one of attempting to control: a plodding, tedious tale of our attempts to control our environment, our fellow humans, and even ourselves in ways large and small, all of which ultimately fail.
The universe laughs at our feeble efforts; it will still be laughing as the dust of our bones is eaten by the fireball that our sun will become.
So it’s no accident that the Beats, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, et al came along in the late 1950s and early 1960s: Control was the American watchword then, along with a certain Valium-induced false joy at the universal “success” of the American Dream--for everyone, that is, except blacks, women, homosexuals, and anyone else who thought there might be something better than a cookie-cutter life lived desperately grinning in the sweat-stained cracks between office, suburbia and suicide.
Square product theatre’s “Allen Ginsberg’s Howl” honors these ideas in a benevolent assault of words and images that suspends time and demands that we pay attention.
In “Howl” Teresa Harrison (who adapted the show) plays host and carnival barker, leading us down a rabbit-hole of seeming madness, a path that ultimately offers a sanity that is more true than the noise that surrounds us, if only we would look up from our computers and smartphones and televisions for a moment.
The audience is kept off-balance from the start, encouraged pre-show to wander into a room where a video depicting historical events plays and quotes about the show are scattered about, along with markers and a drawing book for guests to write in.
Soon, Harrison appears, announcing with the gonging of a hubcap that it’s time to head upstairs to the performance space.
A carnival/junkyard atmosphere permeates the early section of the show, with car parts strewn about and old typewriters dangling from the ceiling. Harrison banters with the crowd and with piano player Paul Fowler, and shamelessly flirts with bartender Bobby Dartt: “There’s no bar now, so you’re just...tender.”
Harrison and her co-director Emily K. Harrison have done tremendous work in creating the persona and honing the piece, dancing along the tightrope between weirdness and pretension. The only quibble about Harrison’s performance is she has a certain aggressive nervousness early on, likely a function of finding her comfort level in the audience interaction sections, a very difficult type of performance within which to be at ease.
Once she gets to her recitation of “Howl” itself, however, she is in her wheelhouse: hers is a heartfelt cry in the wilderness that echoes Ginsberg’s own.
But a blow-by-blow recounting of the events of the show would be not only useless but perhaps even counter-productive. It’s meant to mirror the visceral nature of Ginsberg’s poem in that it should wash through you, seeding you with images that stick to the soil of your soul.
As such, “Howl” is a show that some will love and some will hate. It is a short, sharp punch in the solar plexus; it is not orderly, and there are people who can’t stand that. Watching the opening-night audience was enlightening in itself, split as it was between clench-jawed “what the hell is this?” faces and laughing, irreverent ones.
But the two Harrisons (no relation) have done what they set out to do: celebrate Ginsberg’s seminal work while giving modern audiences plenty to think about in terms of our own complicity in this new era of control in which we live, one that is in some ways exponentially more oppressive, ominous, powerful and anti-human than the one the Beats struggled against.
The Beats demanded that we acknowledge the fearsome but ultimately freeing truth of the chaos at the heart of the universe and within ourselves. They showed us that there is beauty to be found among the broken, and the dispossessed, and the accidental--all of which are becoming harder than ever to find today, buried amid the mindless noise of our plastic and steel anti-culture.