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THEATER REVIEW - Strickland on
stage: Where life, art unite
By IRIS FANGER
For The Patriot
Ledger
Billed as ‘‘Boston’s
favorite Jazzman,’’
the affable Stan
Strickland steps out
from behind his
saxophone, flute,
Jazz musician Stan Strickland is
keyboard, drum set, the subject of “Coming Up For
and finger cymbals Air.” (AMELIA KUNHARDT/The
to talk about his life Patriot Ledger)
and music in a oneman, 80 minute theatrical piece, ‘‘Coming Up For Air.’’
Like Chicken Little, Strickland created the work himself and
performs it, but he’s helped by playwright, Jon Lipsky, who
structured the musician’s memories into a theatrical
dialogue and staged it in a manner that engages the
audience as participants.
The evening unfolds as if Strickland had invited the viewers
into his studio for a bit of music and conversation.
The central event, which calls up the rest of his life, is
Strickland’s near death experience when he almost
drowned off the coast of Hawaii on a New Year’s holiday in
1989. Floating on his back under the sun and zephyr
winds, he was brought to the bottom of the ocean and
miraculously back up again by two rogue waves, to suffer a
broken neck and nearly bit-off tongue.
He recalls the twin thoughts in his mind: ‘‘I’m going to die,’’
and ‘‘Too bad, I never had a hit record or made it onto the
charts,’’ perhaps the universal subtext for the contemporary
musician.
At both beginning and end of the work, he recreates the
physical action of succumbing to the water and fighting it,
using his body and his enormous vocabulary of vocalized
sounds, overlaid with a sense of spiritual connection.
The rest of the reminiscences are connected in
chronological order, from a brief recounting of his childhood
in Ohio when he was orphaned at age 5 and taken in by a
protecting grandmother, to his current occupation with
music and teaching in the Boston area.
The spoken segments are punctuated by riffs of music from
his instruments that are placed around the stage as the
chief bits of scenery, arranged and lighted by Eric
Levenson.
Strickland also sings in a rich, charismatic fashion and
dances when it suits him and the material. He earns his
acting chops by impersonating many of the people he has
encountered.
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I won’t soon forget Strickland recreating a Hawaiian hula
dance, his hips rocking gently, his arms in opposition as his
eyes echo the swaying of his body, nor his persona as a
mad Maori from New Zealand, banging on a single drum to
assert his identity.
Although Strickland is a consummate jazz musician, as
proficient on an electronic keyboard and percussion
instruments as playing the flute and saxophone, his chief
means of expression for this performance are the
movements of his fluid body and his amazingly complex
vocal apparatus.
At the opening preview of the work this week, the audience
seemed to be filled with members of Strickland’s chosen
family, which includes the large number of students he
teaches at Lesley College where he completed a Master of
Arts degree in expressive arts therapy, Berklee College of
Music, Tufts University and Longy School of Music, not to
mention the many dancers for whom he has provided
music.
Strickland, a mainstay of Boston’s jazz world for more than
30 years, now widens the circle in this affecting foray out
from the clubs and classrooms into the theatrical spotlight.
COMING UP FOR AIR/ AN AUTOJAZZOGRAPHY
Conceived and performed by Stan Strickland at Boston
Center for the Arts, through Oct. 14. Tickets $20-$25 at
617-933-8600 or BostonTheatreScene.com .
Copyright 2006 The Patriot Ledger
Transmitted Friday, September 29, 2006
Wareham, MA
Christopher Haddock
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