How are we to understand that many-splendored thing called love? Is it through music, poetry, film, or perhaps words on a stage? Sundown Collaborative Theatre addresses these questions in both style and substance with their sweet and lowdown production of Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaikin’s Savage/Love.
Director Cody Lucas sets his play, which is more like a wonderfully gratifying performance piece, in Denton’s tiny Green Space Arts Collective. The room is transformed into a cozy little dark jazz club dotted with tables and chairs, the accompanying band, Paradise Road stage left, and a bed in the middle with fabric as a movie screen behind.
Audience members who arrive early are treated to some excellent preshow tunes by the band (Zaire Adams on vocals and guitar, Vinay Badhiwala on bass and guitar, and Dane Ernst on drums). They play an eclectic and satisfying mix of originals with contemporary and near-contemporary numbers for the heart. If there is a short list for hardest working band in theater, they are on it.
There is no real beginning to the show, as the band keeps playing, and then one of the characters, Stella (Kim Nall) joins in for a few songs to sing and play the mandolin, and then Sal (Zane Harris) comes up to read some poetry.
Savage/Love was not created as a conventional play, but as a “piece surrounding the concept of the human voice.” Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaikin collaborated over a three-week period to produce a series of 19 poems for their “play.” Lucas takes it a step forward and incorporates filmed pieces (filmed and edited by Tyler Lucas) and songs performed by Paradise Road to create a more comprehensive picture of the fragile and sometimes ephemeral nature of a new relationship. It’s avant-garde theater in the best sense of the words. There is really no narrative or concrete plot, but instead a feast of images, poetry, and sound that creates an intimate and immersive experience.
Harris as the love-struck Sal is a tall ball of nerves who is as passionate and pained as any tortured, writer drunk on wine and words should be. Kim Nall’s Stella is a dark-haired, mysterious femme fatale muse with a striking musical presence. Young actors are perfect for this kind of dramatic, and artistic earnestness, and these two pull off the spark and disintegration of their romance with only limited dialog with each other, but burn like gorgeous embers on stage.
Lucas skillfully integrates the lovely filmed, black and white vignettes, and the music to supplement the story to formulate a piece of art that is sensual, haunting, bittersweet, and not to be missed. This savage love is more like a love supreme.