Ode to the Man Who Kneels

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

The reductive rap on writer-director-composer Richard Maxwell’s work is that he’s “the deadpan guy.” In the paranoid House (1998), the desperate romance Good Samaritans (2004) and last year’s violent extravaganza The End of Reality, he enforced a minimized performing style that deflates every emotion into uninflected reportage. Maxwell does it to avoid theatrical fakery, but it also frees him to tackle issues of broad scope without embarrassment. In his new Western musical, Ode to the Man Who Kneels, there is no small talk. It’s all big talk—from professions of love to point-of-the-pistol farewells—and the dry-as-gulch delivery lets it slip past melodrama and into art.

The Standing Man (Jim Fletcher) has already claimed his first victim by the time he saunters into town. Trussed up in a velvet jacket and ill-fitting cowboy hat, his Roman profile poking over the bar, he either kills or seduces everyone he meets. The company periodically breaks into song, with scattered dead bodies chiming in on the chorus. On Sascha van Riel’s bewitching nothing of a set (an X of tape, a spotlight made out of a slide projector), everything depends on the simple chords, the oddly gothic text and droll, superhip actors. This work might not transcend tastes—if you fidgeted at Dogville then be forewarned—but it’s still enormously accessible. By sinking his bit into the Western’s rich mythical soil, Maxwell drills into our shared frontier psyche and comes up a gusher.

Performing Garage. Written and directed by Richard Maxwell. With ensemble cast. 1hr 15mins. No intermission.