Animal Wisdom

Theater, Musicals
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Animal Wisdom
Photograph: Courtesy Maria Baranova
Heather Christian

Theater review by Helen Shaw

“I’ve come here to let something go,” says Heather Christian, but don’t you believe her. Despite her birdlike fragility, the composer-performer isn’t actually small—not if you factor in the incredible sounds she makes with her voice and the way she hammers music out of a piano. She’s also not as nervous as she lets on, though grief sometimes rises and swallows her. And although she describes her propulsive, witchy musical Animal Wisdom as a “requiem mass,” meant to lay her many ghosts to rest, Christian has no intention of parting with them. They’re in her music; if you listen, they won’t let you go either.

Animal Wisdom is a Southern-style avant-cabaret séance. Christian and her bandmates gather into a circle to invoke Christian’s intensely personal—perhaps invented?—history of seeing the dead: Her first love affair was with a ghost; her granddad’s spirit is in her car. Designer Andrew Schneider and director Mark Rosenblatt surround her with a set that evokes a Mississippi junk shop; flickering light bulbs pulse along with Christian’s rock-folk, gospel-inflected pop hymns. It’s part concert, part painful para-autobiography and part old-fashioned magic act. This time, however, the woman onstage saws her own damned self in half.

The Bushwick Starr (Off-Off Broadway). By Heather Christian. Directed by Mark Rosenblatt. With Christian. Running time: 2hrs. No intermission. Through Nov 4.

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By: Helen Shaw


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