THAT MORNING THING (1968/2011)
An opera by Robert Ashley
Director: Fast Forward
Sound processing and mixing: Tom Hamilton
Lighting design: David Moodey
The Speaker: John Hagan
The Men: Brian McCorkle, Paul Pinto, Dave Ruder, Aaron Siegel
The Women: Gelsey Bell, Amirtha Kidambi, Samantha McHale, Megan Schubert, Aliza Simons, Samita Sinha, Madeline Wilcox, Kimberly Young
The Singer: Imani Uzuri
The Synthesizer Player: “Blue” Gene Tyranny
The Dancer: Kimberly Bartosik
The Director: Fast Forward
Glasses: designed and made by James Lo
The recorded voice in Act II, Scene 2: Cynthia Liddell
The song in Act III, Scene 3: composed and performed by Carl Spelbring
Stage manager: Betsy Ayer
Assistant lighting designer: Nick Kolin
Assistant to Mr. Tyranny: Sime Viduka
A Performa 11 Premiere co-presented with The Kitchen
Curated by Mark Beasley
Produced by Performing Artservices, Inc. and Performa 11
“Once Group’s That Morning Thing Electrifies,” by Andrew Lugg, for The Michigan Daily, February 8, 1968
Devised by Robert Ashley, That Morning Thing, which is being presented at the Union Ballroom by the Once Group, shows that the group is all that it is cracked up to be. It is two-and-a-half years since this local group last did a piece in town. Some will remember their performances on top of the Maynard Street parking structure. That Morning Thing is more modest in certain respects but more devastating in others. This scratched at your soul.
I feel much better now that it is all over. As I see it (and this, no doubt, is only one of many possible interpretations), this event is about a woman’s suicide: about getting up in the morning and facing it again: about going through another day.
Afterwards someone told me that it was about memory, beautiful people, reflecting on unattainable ends, magazines, selling cars, the animal world, frogs, and so on.
One performer told me that she felt it was like working in a swamp. It was the “darkest” piece that they had ever done. What is sure however is that That Morning Thing is very scary.
We saw ordinary, well-known imagery gently transformed and interlocked in an extraordinarily controlled manner. At the end, everyone was quiet, subdued by a weird, mysterious synesthesic outpouring or by the fear that all “private” emotions are, ultimately, public.
Let me give a few (from many) impressions. I was impressed by the rostrum speaker, who not only defined a structure for the performance – that is, verbally defined it – but also discussed the process of its creation. He told us that the American composer comes to terms with himself late in life, at that time when he reflects on death. Thus he combines happiness with nostalgia.
Or again, at the end, a voice repeats over and over, “She was a visitor” … The suicide over … Or the motor car commercial, as recorded with all the retakes … The everyday world encroaching … Or the frog people at the beginning … Conveyers from one zone to another. Or the singer, counting to four and the pianist responding, as though from another world … perhaps communicating.
Although the rostrum speaker announced that the performance was to be symbolic and gave us the “key,” no easy answers were apparent. “That Morning Thing” has a complexity and a monumentality that makes it a hard nut to crack.