Amanda Palmer’s Neutral Milk Hotel-inspired high school production – in pics & review
photos by Beth Hommel, words by Dese’Rae L. Stage
I’m willing to bet that, when Amanda Palmer went back to her high school in the suburbs of Boston to collaborate with mentor and long-time drama teacher Steven Bogart, no one expected it to be heavily press-worthy. I’m also willing to further wager it was unanticipated that the product of said collaboration would pack the 1000-capacity auditorium at Lexington High for every performance [May 7, 8 and 9 at the LHS theater]. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure the only thing I was sure of was that the experience would be exceptionally moving–even to the point of tears. Palmer has proven, time and again, her proclivity for making art of various mediums that pulls at the heartstrings, and this was no exception.
“With the Needle That Sings in Her Heart,” the collective brain child of Bogart, Palmer, and the entire cast of twenty drama students from Lexington High School, was inspired by Neutral Milk Hotel‘s “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” and loosely based on Anne Frank’s experience in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. If ever there were proof that intention levels the playing ground for making art, this is it. Never in a million years would I have thought that such young kids could create a work that so effectively explores themes of death as cruel, yet somehow compassionate in its inevitability or, not only the existence of a god (or gods, as Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades make a brief appearance in the show), but his very ego, going so far as to assert more than once that any god who could subject his people to such suffering must hate himself. Driving the work was also the concept that imagination can be a powerful tool for survival in extreme adversity, artfully illustrated by Emma Feinberg’s portrayal of Anne. Then you have the surrealist bent the piece takes, likely provided not only by the colorful imagery in Jeff Mangum’s lyrics, performed almost exclusively by leading man, Alex Parrish, but also attributed to Palmer’s experience as a performance artist, which inevitably rubbed off on the entire cast.
Really, the show was amazing. The technical direction was seamless. The set design was complex and fluid. The performances, both musical and theatrical, were on par with–hell, I don’t know, but they were so far beyond anything you’d expect from a high school production. I’ve long thought that, in order to create a moving piece of art, the intention had to be pure, fearless, and had to lack the self-consciousness many of us develop with age. The fact that I can’t stop thinking about “With the Needle That Sings in Her Heart” two days later tells me that maybe Bogart and Palmer are on to something.
More pictures below…