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7/6/2024        BABBLE LAB            Alliance Theatre


pgm 0706 Babble.jpg

Someone, not a child, once proclaimed unto the universe that “It’s easier for children to learn languages than for adults.”  We are obviously blessed with collective amnesiation and recall not how we learned sounds and only gradually (even painfully) applied meanin’ to the phonemin’.  It’s true (perhaps -- I don’t know, it’s above my pay grade) that children in bi-lingual families learn both languages with easiability.  But that’s because (I has suspicions) both languages are part of a universe of sound and meaning discovery – they don’t have to translate.  Learning` languages as adults involves our-too-developed logic-sodden brains recreating unfamiliar morphemes into more recognizable ones – “Ich weiß nicht was soll es bedeuten” = “I don’t know what it’s supposed to mean” (Thanks two years of High School German) and “Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres” = “All Gaul is divided into three parts” (Thanks two years of Junior High School Latin).


Which is a long-winded seemingly eruditesque way of introducing all y’all to Babble Lab, the latest Alliance family show for the three-to-seven-year-old demographic.  To be even more eruditesque, creator, writer, performer Autumn Ness claims that her inspiration was Dada – the early twentieth-century movement that gave us “sound poetry,” artistic deconstruction, and (again I has suspicions), “Jabberwocky” (which was very slithy of it if it’s not too brillig to mention).  In fact, phonemologists can (and probably have, I don’t wanna do the research), have drawn a direct line from Tristan Tzara (Yes, I only know the name because of Tom Stoppard) to Pixar’s Minions, perhaps today’s leading speakers of utter nonsense (political pundits excepted).


So there it is – I’ve managed to (SemiSortaKinda logically) fully embrace nonsense by citing Dada, Stoppard, Phoneme Science, German and Latin Literature, Politics, and Pixar’s Minions in an appreciation of an event aimed at pre-schoolers.  I will accept your Huzzahs any time!


Say “Bello” to Ms. Ness, as she emerges, lab-coat and goggle clad, onto the stage bearing what can only be described as Steam Punkerous Sound Equipment.  She ventures amongst the wee ones lounging on comfy floor mats, and listens to their hearts, their tummies, their bowels, their minds, and all the fun and frumious noises the human child’s body can make.  She silently works her magic and her science, but her experiments go all kerflooey, with letters and sounds emerging and frolicking in a what can only be called a joyous celebration of sound and not-so-fury, with words that aren’t words, ideas that are still forming (and may not be complete until play’s end), and nonsense that actually makes more sense than you know (or could possibly know).


This is one of those rare “family” shows designed for the youngest of us but appealing to us all.  It does not “speak down” to children nor it does not make minderators roll their eyes with patient-parent ennui.  Autumn Ness is smart enough, knows children well enough, that she can (and does) brilligly aim her creation at those who are still making the connections between sound and meaning.  If you’ve ever taken delight in a toddler’s gigglefest at a string of nonsense words (or taken equal delight in the sound of the gigglefest itself), this is the show for you.  You don’t even need to bring a child, grandchild, doddering senior, or pet.

This production (actually touring from Children’s Theatre Company of Minneapolis) is a triumph of tightly synchronized sound, acting, and projection – I imagine tech week was a drillfest to get the timing perfectly syncho-o-pated as it is here – “The Scientist” (she remains silence-bound, gibberish-centric so we don’t even know if she has a name) eats a letter then makes the sound.  As more letters go into her gut and out of her mouth, sounds echo around the house, projections turn into solid props, and even we jaded grumpy septuagenarians open our mouths in gaping agogiosity.  I have been told that this 45-minute show has over 400 sound cures, and I don’t think I was being spewed with exaggerata.


Kudos to Ms. Ness, to sound designer Katherine Horowitz (and performance sound engineer Emma Mouledoux – speaking of names that are a delight to say out loud), to projection designer Jorge Cousineau, to scenic designer Michael Sommers, to lighting designer Wu Chen Khoo, and to stage manager Liz Campbell for making this tech-heavy wallow in words and sounds and echoes and gibberish slither into our memories with pure delight!. Like The Hitchhiker's Guide to Galaxy suggests, you will WANT to put this Babble Lab into your ear.  As far as theatrical experiences go, this whimsical non-cacophany is the mimsiest!




    --  Brad Rudy  (    #AllianceTheatre    #BabbleLab   #MyArtBelongsToDada)

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