Music: Ellen Maddow
Writer: Ellen Maddow
Director: Ellie Heyman
Reviewer: Carrie Lee O’Dell
Fusiform Gyrus—A Septet for Two Scientists and Five Horns, Talking Band’s musical meditation on the workings of the human brain, gets its title from the part of the brain that ”lights up with activity during brain imaging when people describe and give names to living things.” It’s currently running at HERE Arts Center as part of their SubletSeries@HERE. Over the course of seventy minutes, two scientists reminisce about their friendships with one another and with their mutual friend Anne Greene while a quintet of horns builds a soundscape for their musings.
The plot of Fusiform Gyrus is fairly simple—on a cold winter night, entomologist Aiden Grey (Tom Nelis) comes to visit his dear friend, taxonomist Dr. Fred Decker (Paul Zimet). Aiden Grey bears two gifts for his friend: a mascarpone pie and a thumb drive with a message from their friend Anne Greene (Kim Gambino). They talk about their work and the way the brain works as they struggle to decipher the garbled audio in the video of Anne, her husband Donovan (Will Badgett), and daughter Monica (Sumaya Bouhbal). They interact with the audience and with the turquoise-suited musicians that surround them (Chris DiMeglio on trumpet, Lathan Hardy on alto saxophone, Sam Kulik on tuba, Jessica Lurie/Stefan Zeniuk on baritone sax, and Peter Zummo on trombone). The scientists’ conversation (which sometimes erupts into song) covers the feeding habits of oregano-nesting moths, Dr. Decker’s collection of velvet suits, Aiden Grey’s love of Russian literature, and eventually the uncertain future of science.
Fusiform Gyrus glories in its details and takes its time getting to its destination—just as any satisfying conversation with an old friend does. Tom Nelis and Paul Zimet are each splendid actors, but it’s when they engage with one another that the play comes alive. Their energy is infectious; it’s hard not to smile at their interactions. The musicians, playing music by playwright and composer Ellen Maddow only enhance the action onstage, they never distract. Considering that they are playing brass instruments and wearing turquoise suits with sequined bow ties, that’s really saying something. The production elements also deserve mention—Anna Kiraly’s set, Mary Ellen Stebbins’s lights, and the costume design by Kiki Smith and Jill St. Coeur create striking visuals to complement the action onstage.
With recent attacks on scientific and evidence-based research, Talking Band’s newest work is politically timely, but never feels like it’s lecturing the audience or pushing a political agenda. That said, some audiences may not be easily won over by the interplay of horns and entomology or the scientists’ attempts to lip-read their friend Anne Greene’s cryptic video message. However, those who are willing to relax and absorb the sights and sounds around them without mining it for one “right” meaning are in for an evening of joy and insight.
Runs until 25 February 2018 | Image: Suzanne Opton