by Collin McConnell · November 12, 2014
Eric Wright, Tyler Bunch, Hanley Smith, Clare McNulty, Spencer Lott, Erik Lochtefeld | Justin Khalifa
Though his music is instantly recognizable, I really didn't know who Raymond Scott was upon entering Sinking Ship's production of Powerhouse. All I knew was this was to be the story of a forgotten legend, and there was going to be swing music that maybe got, well, weird. And puppets.
A man hears music - new music - in his head. He does everything to get it out and into the hands, mouths, lungs of his band members, but nothing is ever quite right. Trying to find the way deep (and deeper, and deeper) inside his head, he never manages to break out emotionally as a human, hurting others (women) as he jumps to more and more extreme ideas about how to create music.
There were puppets, there was swing music (which did become something else), the ensemble is rather inventive in their means of physical storytelling, and it is indeed the story of Raymond Scott, his wives, and how he was forgotten.
But I still don't think I know who Raymond Scott is.
I do not think, however, that this is a failing of any one individual - indeed every member of the ensemble is clear, creative, specific (if not maybe lacking a bit in energy the evening I saw it) - but rather a lack of clarity around the story that wanted to be told. Powerhouse focuses on Raymond Scott (played by Erik Lochtefeld with an inimitable stoicism that is a joy to watch struggle to stay afloat amid damning emotional tumults), but perhaps both too much, and not enough. We watch him make a lot of choices - abandon a large body of his work to L.A. producers, move from one woman to the next - but not ever deal with the consequences. It is a story about there never being enough. Fitting, as full and rich as this production is.
And it is rich and full. The curiosities begin with the pre-show: the subtly shifting lights (designed by Nicholas Houfek) hinting at the magical wanderings through a mind the evening will take us on. Then: creatively crafted set pieces (smartly designed with simplicity by Carolyn Mraz) fly through the space being manipulated by an ensemble working together with wonderful precision. And out come the puppets: designed (with, again, magically expansive simplicity) by the Puppet Kitchen, and manipulated with comedic ease by Tyler Bunch, Spencer Lott, and Eric Wright. Josh Luxenberg's script flows beautifully from one scene to the next, keeping a wry eye on itself as it unashamedly takes leaps through time in the span of a sentence.
It is a big, boisterous production, entertaining while trying to maybe keep the audience engaged with the moral conundrum inside the insanity of creating. Entertaining it was, though my empathy takes a bit more goading than just a bad situation.