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Brainstorm Volume 2: Baltimore Mixtape

A half-dozen shorts make up a hit-or-miss night at the theater

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What’s the Special?: (from left) Siarra T. Mong, Lauren Saunders and J. Hargrove discuss “Poetic Meat.”

Brainstorm Volume 2: Baltimore Mixtape

Presented by Glass Mind Theatre at the lof/t through May 29

What is theater about anyway? Is it about love, or life, or death? Is it about entertainment and enjoyment, about music and spectacle, about acting and art? Glass Mind Theatre’s Brainstorm Volume 2: Baltimore Mixtape touches on each of these in its mostly successful two-hour-ish run, encompassing six miniplays from six minds, each inspired by two songs taken from a pool of suggestions from audience members collected over the last few months.

A similar question is asked about midway through “Poetic Meat,” the first play, albeit about poetry. Three diners in a greasy spoon discuss the death of a fellow regular, a solitary man who came every day to sip coffee and scribble on his legal pad. They called him the poet, though no one had seen his jealously guarded work. Diner 3 (J. Hargrove) asks, “What is poetry about anyway?,” and Diners 1 and 2 (Lauren Saunders and Siarra T. Mong, respectively) try to help him consider it. It’s an interesting little play, and a good way to open the production.

The rest of the first half spirals downward pretty quickly, though through no real fault of the actors. “Which Way We Step” finds Lorraine (Amy Patrick) on her wedding day, a bright young woman with a less-than-bright life, which we learn about through a series of flashbacks. Patrick does a solid job, but Erin Boots, who plays Lorraine’s sister in her first role of the night, is fantastic, and proves perhaps the most enjoyable to watch throughout the show. The play itself is a bit contrived, though, its good-girl-in-a-bad-home meme a bit too familiar.

The next bit, “Effect of Songs,” is a mess. It seems to be an abstract depiction of love, which could be kind of neat if done better, but here it’s simply a bewildering mix of boys, girls, umbrellas, apples, white dresses, headphones, and a one-man chorus (Kevin Griffin Moreno). Perhaps it would make more sense to one who is familiar with the two Joanna Newsom songs by which “Effect” is inspired, but even so, it’s unreasonable to expect that kind of required reading from the audience.

The evening’s second half proves much stronger. It opens with “Dust,” a 10-minute piece written by eight high school students at the Baltimore Lab School that’s remarkably adult. Set in 1930s Texas, “Dust” features a crooked reverend (Alexander Scally) who “rescued” the young Isaiah (Shaun Vain) after his mother cut out his tongue. The boy now has visions, and the reverend, accompanied by his begrudging daughter Kit (Boots), uses him to kidnap naive women wooed by Isaiah’s mystical powers. It’s weird and uncomfortable, but in a way that good theater should be.

“Sting” follows, a quick conversation between two friends (Vince Constantino and Vain) who are reaching adulthood and facing separation as they choose different paths—college and the army. It’s the first and only time in the evening that the set seems carefully considered, and it’s important here. The lights are dimmed, the two boys carry heavy-duty flashlights, and the sound of crickets chirping plays quietly in the room, creating a peaceful few minutes during which it’s possible to forget that you’re in a crowded theater.

That peace comes crashing down with “Ripped and Torn” (written by Vain), a raucous and morbid romp in a restaurant with diners who have an unusual taste. A mother (Patrick) eats with her young son (Constantino) next to a table with two businessmen (Scally and Hargrove) and a secretary (Boots) who’ve eaten all the children the restaurant has to offer and now have their eyes on hers. Boots, Scally, and Hargrove make for wonderfully maniacal cannibals, and Patrick does a strong job as a concerned mother, making for a solid ending to an evening of ups and downs.

Mixtape as a whole feels a bit overambitious. The idea of incorporating music as inspiration is cool in and of itself, but here it ends up being more of a playwright exercise than anything that translates to the audience. GMT tries to infuse the idea of music into the evening by inviting a different local musician each weekend—it was Red Sammy on our visit—and highlighting the actors’ musical talents (one plays a clarinet during transitions, for example) but it’s all a tad schizophrenic. GMT’s vision could have been better realized by streamlining, and by featuring the songs that actually inspired the work instead of just listing them in the program. Still, Mixtape leaves you feeling entertained, if a bit confused, and that, at least for this evening, is what theater is about.

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