by Jason Jacobs · August 12, 2014
How many operas encourage you to get a beer on your way to your seat and open with the lyrics “I’m so fucking wasted?” The nationwide group Opera On Tap performs in bars and other informal spaces to show us that opera doesn’t have to be stuffy to be excellent. Their immersive production SMASHED: The Carrie Nation Story aims for rowdy fun. More lampoon than history, the piece sends-up the infamous 19th-century temperance crusader, known for attacking saloons with a hatchet. James Barry’s accessible score and Timothy Braun’s whimsical libretto keep it short and snappy, shifting through a variety of vignettes and musical styles. Although I chose not to review under the influence, I had a great time at this party of a show, which I’d describe as a delicious brew of top-shelf singers mixed with downtown creativity.
In the title role, soprano Krista Wozniak held my attention with her powerful and luscious voice, expressive eyes, agile movement, and comedic timing. Braun plays loosely with Nation’s biography; in a meta-theatrical moment, a police officer accuses her of “portraying a historical figure in an exaggerated fictionalization.” One striking exception is a poignant aria in which Carrie laments her former husband’s addiction to alcohol. Here, the music shifts to a simple plaintiveness, and Wozniak’s soulful interpretation allowed me a deeper view into Carrie’s humanity.
Baritone David Schmidt plays a series of opposing characters with gusto. As a scientist who explains the chemistry of beer, a bartender defending the rites of partying, or as God inspiring Carrie’s mission, Schmidt has a rich voice and a strapping presence. Lynn Berg is delightful as the non-singing narrator, a tippling clown, played with perfect tipsiness. I’d also raise a glass to the chorus of partiers, Cameron Russell, Christiana Little, Jocelyne O’Toole, Patricia Vital, Evan McCormack and Seth Gilman who bring impressive voices and comedic skills, especially in the hilarious opening number.
I loved the creative ingenuity of this shoestring production, overseen by OOT’s “Grand Managing Diva” Anne Hiatt. Jenny Lee Mitchell’s playful staging and Ramona Ponce’s campy props help the performers to romp freely around the space. Christopher Weston’s lighting makes it all visible and atmospheric. Musical director Mila Henry keeps the boozy performances precise, clear, and on-pitch.
I was disappointed by the show’s conclusion, which ultimately dismisses Carrie and her impact and left me wondering WHY her story should be told? In fact, her cause would gain supporters and lead America to prohibition, so I can’t write off Carrie Nation as a mere joke. Her story could also help us to find a middle ground between full abstinence and total hedonism. But even if I wasn’t fully satisfied with the last few drops, most of the show gave me a great buzz.