BWW Review: Howl In The Time Of Trump By Sanctuary Theatre & The Performing Knowledge Project  At Capital Fringe Festival

BWW Review: Howl In The Time Of Trump By Sanctuary Theatre & The Performing Knowledge Project  At Capital Fringe Festival

Allen Ginsberg was (and still is) many things to many people. Best known as a beat poet and activist, he opposed sexual repression and materialism. The architect of "flower power," he embraced the anti-establishment. But to many, like fellow famed poets Jack Kerouac or William S. Boroughs, he was simply a friend and partner in crime.

Howl in the Time of Trump is a one-man recitation of Ginsberg's protest poem Howl, written and performed here in four parts (including Ginsberg's footnote). Dubbed by some as obscene and vulgar (he was even put on trial for it), others called it a masterpiece. Either way, Howl is as much emblematic of the resistance to "a patriarchal, heterosexually monogamous America" today as it was in 1956.

Conceived and performed by Robert Michael Oliver, Howl in the Time of Trump works because Howl was written using the rhythms of ordinary speech and not a little bit because it draws stylistic inspiration from that great bastion of American poetry, Walt Whitman (Ginsberg's great poetic hero). This is just part of what allows Oliver to take Ginsberg's words and apply an emotional intelligence that resonates with the beleaguered Capital Fringe Festival audience of 2017.

But Oliver takes Howl a step further. In partnership with musician Douglas Fraser, Oliver layers Ginsberg's words on top of original music performed live onstage. Fraser's compositions crescendo and build suspense. Practically, the addition of music is a smart way to bring people in off the street who may have otherwise shied away from a traditional one-man, spoken-word performance (like me).

Oliver and Video Projection Designers Aashish Edakadampil and Yitna Firdyiwek (also Director) add a third layer to their performance: projections. All together, the music, spoken word, and projections have a hypnotic effect reminiscent of the psychedelic counterculture. This effect is stylistically ingenious but it also prompted my mind to drift away from Ginsberg's words.

Part one of Oliver's performance stays honest to Ginsberg's Howl but he has a bit of fun with part II, which compares Trump to the original ancient bad guy Malik (look him up, trust me). Oliver dons a pretty darn realistic Trump-as-Malik mask and he also gives the audience finger puppets (utterly distracting but a lot of fun) with which to yell at Malik. That he felt he had to give his adult audience finger-puppets to keep us entertained isn't necessarily good news but nevertheless, it worked. Audience participation is en vogue and the 2016-2017 DC theatre scene has provided me with ample opportunities to yell at the patriarchy. Thanks for that!

Howl in the Time of Trump was performed in the Shopkeeper's venue of the Capital Fringe Festival. A basement venue, ShopKeeper's intimate performance space lended Howl in the Time of Trump a grassroots vibe buoyed by Oliver's apparent personal passion for Ginsberg's life and work.

And if nothing else, there is always something to be said for a performance kept short and sweet.

There are no more planned performances of Howl in the Time of Trump but I would suggest that you keep an eye out for Oliver, Sanctuary Theatre, and The Performing Knowledge Project.

Running Time: 50 minutes, no intermission.

For more information HOW IN THE TIME OF TRUMP click here.

Photo: Allen Ginsberg. Photo by Michiel Hendryckx.

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