The Boise Creative and Improvised Music Festival has a reputation for being under-attended. And for good reason. The music is often little more than random atonal screeches, pops and noises that make old people complain the music is too loud. More than just challenging, the mix of free jazz, noise and atmospheric anti-pop that the festival features could often be described as music that actively discourages people from listening to it, though the bizarre sounds and delivery can, at times, result in an emotional thrill-ride.
To combat that image, festival organizers took a different approach this year, and combined the festival with a new play—Me and My Shadow—from local writer Heidi Kraay. The musical acts that comprise the festival bookend the show and play the score in real time.
The play is the story of a woman, Marianne, and her struggle with mental illness after the death of her father. Rather than face the pain, Marianne, played by Sarah A. Gardner, retreats into a fantasy romance—shadowland—with a long-dead Russian czar, played by Noah C. Moody.
Settings and emotional shifts are portrayed by a series of projections on three screens hung above the stage. Between the projections, the staging and the complex atmosphere of the score, it is a lush and engaging production, made all the more engaging by the all-around strength of the cast, which is a rogues gallery of Boise's best young actors.
It is incredibly strong as a piece of performance art. But as a play, it struggles for two reasons.
The first is that the story is less the fabled meeting of the unstoppable force and the immovable object than it is a misery pageant, as the audience follows Marianne through nearly two decades of decline and eventual recovery. With little on the line as a dramatic hook, the play drags, especially during the second act.
The second is that, though the other characters in the play (Marianne's husband, her sister, an employee at the book store she owns) have their own defining traits, they exist less on their own trajectory than simply as objects in the orbit of Marianne's ordeal. Much, if not all of their dialog is discussing her state, her history or her future. Their quirks and actions serve more as asides than forces driving the actions of the main character. And this only serves to exacerbate the lack of a narrative hook.
It's possible that both of these issues are deliberate devices used to portray the existential black hole of mental illness, but it seems more likely that they speak to an underdeveloped script.
Though in large part, the play is included as a hook for the music festival, it is clear that the play was the real draw, as much of the audience talked through the opening musician and cleared out as soon as the play ended. Play or not, the music is no less challenging—or potentially rewarding—if you can take the heat in the kitchen.
Me and My Shadow's complex staging and use of a wide variety of genuine talent across multiple mediums is exactly the sort of innovation and creativity that Boise's art scene could use a dose of. You may not like B-CIMF or Me and My Shadow, but you should definitely see it.
The play shows again tonight, Saturday, May 12, at Visual Arts Collective. Musician Tristan Andreas will open, and the show will be followed by a performance from Kris Hartung, Brent Jensen, Brian McFadin and Aaron Davis. It starts at 7:30 p.m. and costs $12 at the door.