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Review: Oxblood 

Tyler Gillespie on a site-specific production held at Grow Dat Youth Farm in New Orleans City Park

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Between trees draped with moss, Jacob holds himself up with a shovel. The field is full of dry grass, and he twists his body as if dancing with the shovel. Jacob eventually falls to his knees, claws at the ground and looks for a semblance of what previous generations left behind in New Noise's production of Oxblood on Grow Dat Youth Farm in New Orleans City Park.

  The piece was performed in a large open field at sunset. A house recently burned to the ground, but the blackened fireplace still stands and charred boards are piled nearby. Jacob (Phil Cramer) brings his wife Rose (Bonnie Gabel) to see her childhood home in ruins. Near the rubble, Rose is reunited with her sister Laurel (Kylie Arceneaux), who cared for the house after their parents died. Laurel and Rose argue over what to do with the land. Laurel wants to sell it to developers to pay off debts. Rose sees the land as her connection to her past.

  The hourlong production was physically demanding and the cast responded with high energy. Choreographer Angelle Hebert's dance was integrated into the narrative, and in synchronized movements, the performers mimicked working in the field. Rose and Laurel's fraught relationship was primarily explored through movement, and their spare dialogue mostly used for exposition. The two went from slapping at each other to a deep embrace and back to fighting. Ultimately, it was a beautiful back-and-forth exchange, and Arceneaux was especially strong as the more dominant sister.

  In the sisters' relationship, the history of the land and how it affected their family is put into contemporary context. Rose feels guilty for leaving the family and the farm. Through both movement and restraint, Gabel showed Rose's conflicted emotions and gave a powerful performance. Toward the end, Jacob's motives were difficult to understand as the show juggled heavy themes. Jacob seemed to mediate between the two sisters, and Cramer's movements brought out the intensity of the drama.

  A trio of musicians — Renee Anderson, Daron Douglas and Eli Timm — served as a chorus, and their singing often overlapped with the piece's dialogue. The script was poetic and the chorus helped maintain the show's tempo.

  Oxblood grapples with the ownership of land and history. There are no easy resolutions to the family's financial or emotional issues. The combination of music, dance, poetic dialogue and the outdoor setting came together in an ambitious and effective production.


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