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The Opium Wars

Cast: Jeff Webster (Manuel), Ed Araiza (Louie), K. Sanchez (Mariana), Lisa Vidal (Mariana), Ruth Maleczech (Amalia), Mary Shultz (Evelyn), Lola Pashalinshi (Dr. Stein)

Musicians: Ikue Mori (electric percussion), D.J. Olive (turntables), Tenko (voice), Margaret Parkins (cello), Zeena Parkins (sampler, electric harp), Joe Tramp (percussion), Chris Cochrane (guitar, voice), David Shea (turntables), D.D. Dorveillier (voice), Jonathan Bepler (voice)

The 17 pieces on this 71 minute audio CD present a radio play about ethnic life in Manhatten at the beginning of the twentieth century. Playright Ana Maria Simo uses poetry, ethnic vignettes, and argumentative dialogue to present the plight of a cuban family that is destroyed by opium and the influx of chineese immegrants. Music producer Zeena Parkins uses these artists and various musical sources to present a cacophonous musical soundtrack that reflects the turbulent lifes of the characters in this play.

The music serves as background to the play and is heavily edited. It adds a powerful emotional subtext that amplifies what the characters in the play are going through emotionally. The music is mostly organized into short passages of the kind of experimental and extended technique music that you would come to expect from the downtown New York scene.

The actors deliver their lines very professionally and the writing is good. It is rare to hear a play that makes such extensive use of experimental writing techniques yet at the end you truly feel for the characters. It takes good actors to accomplish this. They show the emotions of desperate addicts quickly without making it appear to be campy or overly emotional. This is a radio play so everyone is close miked which lends itself to a feeling of intimacy with the characters as they interact with each other.

The artwork of the CD has a documentary motif. The J card features grainy, historical photos from the times and the CD itself has a line art image of a poppy (from which opium comes).

Overall, this CD has a nice theatrical experience to it. The combination of wild, "out-there" music and progressive, experimental theater yields a strong synergy in the hands of these excellent artists. Good work!

Glenn Engstrand


the improvisor
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