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Lost and found: Mondo Bizarro explores uncharted territory at CAC show 

Identity, geography and punk rock in The Way at Midnight

click to enlarge Nick Slie and Hannah Pepper Cunningham perform in The Way at Midnight.

Photo by Zack Smith

Nick Slie and Hannah Pepper Cunningham perform in The Way at Midnight.

In The Way at Midnight, vocalist Just Noise and drummer Tree Face form the alternately preaching or raging punk band Gentry Vacation. They're spastic as they approach passersby on the street about their next gig. The show costs $5, Tree Face tells one person. It's $10, Just Noise tells someone who seems to have more disposable income. It's free, they tell others who don't seem interested at all. There's just one consistently applied rule.

  "No trackers!" Just Noise yells.

  She means no smartphones with GPS. The two punk rockers are caught up in big ideas and rail against the world, including its literal shape and borders. But the issue with GPS is not just about being monitored by Big Brother-like corporations or government. Just Noise is rebelling against a more nuanced concept of the way in which maps define people.

  The Way at Midnight is a multimedia show by Mondo Bizarro, and it opens the Contemporary Arts Center's performance season Thursday.

  Mondo Bizarro members Nick Slie and Hannah Pepper Cunningham play the show's eight characters, all of them concerned with identity, ancestry and how geography and maps help determine those things.

  The show opens with a Conquistador (Slie) coming on stage with a map. He set out for the Indies but landed in what is now Florida. Despite his misconceptions about where he is, he explores and claims land (though other people already live there). He's defining the space, even if he's mistaken about it.

  "The first Europeans coming to the New World were lost in a way no one will ever be lost again," says director Joanna Russo. "They didn't know the geography, the people, the language."

  That concept comes from Rebecca Solnit's book A Field Guide to Getting Lost, a collection of essays often associating a sense of place with identity, memory, loss, change and other things.

  Mondo Bizarro members collaborated on the show Cry You One, a story about the loss of coastal wetlands and the threat to its inhabitants, performed as a journey along a levee in St. Bernard Parish. (They're still touring an adapted version of that show.) In 2015, the core members of Mondo Bizarro started devising The Way at Midnight, inspired by the concepts of geography and cartography and the books Field Guide to Getting Lost and John Berger's book And Our Face, My Heart, Brief as Photos.

  The concept of maps opened the piece to issues of borders, immigration, ancestry and culture. While Just Noise and Tree Face rage against GPS, Korean War buddies Izzy (Cunningham) and Renaud (Slie) have their own concerns. They meet in the woods to perform a funeral, but they don't know who they are burying.

  The show features a minimalist set with visual projections on three curtains shaped like the sails of a ship. The punk band plays two songs, and there's other music in the piece. Miwa Matreyek, a Los Angeles-based artist who focuses on experimental forms of animation, created the visual collages used in the show. She made visual installations in New Orleans for LUNA Fete, the video projection festival presented by the Arts Council New Orleans during the holidays.

  The CAC is one of four arts institutions that commissioned The Way at Midnight and asked Mondo Bizarro to open the CAC season. In 2018 and 2019, the company will present the work at the other organizations' spaces: 7 Stages in Atlanta, Clear Creek Creative in Kentucky and Double Edge Theatre in Massachusetts.


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