Thursday, July 26, 2012

Apocalypse Town

Throughout my life I have been fascinated by the fusion of music, lyrics, spoken word and story. As a child I was exposed, by my music-loving parents, to popular musicals and opera, both live and recorded. Although I have become much more discerning as an adult than I was when I was a child, particularly with regard to musicals, I still am entranced when these diverse but related means of expression can be fused well.

In an earlier post I shared how much I  loved the film Once when it first came out. On the other hand, while I am a fan of much of Neil Young's work, I was completely repulsed by the cliches of his 2003 rock opera Greendale. That said, I admired the attempt. So it was with great trepidation that I decided to attend Anthony Barilla's Apocalypse Town at Houston's D!verseWorks. My unease was even stronger because a couple of colleagues of mine, whom I respect and admire, were involved in the writing and production of this work. How awkward -- what if I didn't like it?

Fortunately, I was able to lay my fears to rest. The production was a success. Apocalypse Town tells the story, through monologue and song, of what living in Kosovo in the aftermath of civil war has done to its culture. Because of the extensive use of monologue in the play's staging, Barrilla sits behind a desk. I was immediately reminded of Spaulding Gray's theatrical work, Swimming to Cambodia and others. I expected the evening to continue as a kind of Spaulding Gray tribute when suddenly Barrilla got up from his desk and rocked out with a group of accomplished local Houston musicians. What a pleasant and unexpected surprise.

As Barilla tells his story, he weaves an eclectic tapestry of original and stylistically diverse musical compositions into his work. Barilla's muse for his story is the punk band Hosenfefer.  Hosenfefer is from Mitrovica, the town he lives in. However, in Apocalypse Town Barilla also provides musical examples of Kosovo's traditional folk music, pop music, blues, hip-hop, and good old American country music.

 Enjoy this cut of Hosenfefer performing "Gimme Some Air."

I've heard that Anthony Barilla is hoping to take Apocalypse Town on the road so that it can find a larger audience. I hope that happens. Apocalypse Town's message about the lasting impact of war on a community is powerful and should be seen. Although many Americans may have forgotten, America was heavily involved in Kosovo's civil war. And it is that act of forgetting our involvements in foreign wars, by us as Americans, that is the unforgettable message of this work.