Goblin Mix 

Theater-and-more performance Conjure Women has notable moments, but some tedious ones as well

Theater-and-more performance Conjure Women has notable moments, but some tedious ones as well

Conjure Women

Through Oct. 11

Presented by Green Room Projects at Darkhorse Theater

Mark Cabus, one of Nashville’s more talented actors and directors, recently announced that his Green Room Projects production company will present four stage shows between now and May 2004. Cabus has some new permanent artistic partners, Jennifer Jewell and Christopher Brown, and will be mounting small-scale performance pieces in the theater at Franklin’s Freedom Middle School. The forthcoming lineup includes Anne Nelson’s The Guys and Cabus’ popular one-man A Christmas Carol. In the meantime, the first Green Room endeavor, Conjure Women, opened last weekend at the Darkhorse Theater. This so-called “cauldron of music, movement and mouth” offers a mixed bag of artistic expression rendered by some talented Nashville-area women. The six performances each feature a different sampling of dancers, spoken-word artists, singers and/or filmmakers, with Jewell’s presentation of Christina Rossetti’s poem Goblin Market as the showcase second act at each performance.

Conjure Women provides some interesting moments, but, depending on what you catch on a particular evening, it may also prove a little overly demanding of one’s attention span. The best thing last Saturday was poet Minton Sparks, who proves a lot more compelling live than she does on CD. Clad in a 1950s-ish dress, Sparks delivered colorful poetry reflecting the mundane but also humorous lives of Southern women. Guitarist John Jackson plucked away atmospherically, as Sparks, with a minimum of movement (including a bout of buckdancing) and innate natural charm, regaled the audience with well-crafted story-songs that conjured up ghostly relatives.

Also on the bill were the Village Drum and Dance Ensemble, resplendently dressed performers who delivered a wall of infectious percussive sound. This segment was great for a while, but the insistently repetitive rhythms began to overextend their running time. Writer/activist Molly Secours also screened two short films. With their respective focus on community relations and the plight of death-row inmate Philip Workman, these pieces certainly don’t lack for sense of purpose. But neither are they highly developed works of art; the films come off as samplers of Secours’ vision as documentarian, leaving the viewer with a feeling of incompleteness. They are intriguing exercises, to be sure, but their topics receive a stillborn treatment.

A daring actress, Jewell first presented Goblin Market in Nashville last spring. With the assistance of choreographer Donna Rizzo, she has worked this erotically seething 19th century poem into a one-woman lovefest of movement and dramatic oration. The accompanying music, composed by Frank Goodman and Tim Lorsch, is an offbeat mix of lyrical interlude and bent notes that function rather like sound effects. Overall, Goblin Market has all the ingredients to be a successful mélange of performing arts. The dense, sometimes tortuously flowing language, however, does not make for a necessarily easy listen. Hence, Jewell is constantly forced to move her performance to higher and higher levels, which, while yielding fascinating emotional moments, also risks tedium. Rossetti’s overripe words constantly threaten to dash all the careful (and loving) planning that has so obviously been invested in both concept and execution. Goblin Market is without question a noteworthy experiment. But an actress of Jewell’s intensity might find even more fertile ground for sustained performance in other stage fare.

Conjure Women plays through this weekend, featuring yet another batch of one-time-only performers, including the Epiphany Dance Company and Thandiwe Shiphrah (Oct. 9), Jen Cohen and Jackie Welch (Oct. 10), and Carol Ponder (Oct. 11). In addition, the Darkhorse lobby has been decorated with work from local women artists, including Lucy Arvin, Bonnie Ertelt, Rising Moon and Darlene Shadden. These pieces add a tremendous visual kick to the femalecentric theme.

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