The Stage Is Set

Holcombe Waller will be among the nominees for a MacArthur Fellowship pretty soon. What else can you say about someone who's obviously — and trust us, we wouldn't use this dreaded word unless we had to — a genius? At Into the Dark Unknown: The Hope Chest, a theatrical stage holds a man who started out as an indie-rock singer-songwriter, but who has grown into a ... we don't really have a word for it yet, at least not in this country. In Iran, there's a tradition of coffeehouse poets who sing and collaborate with painters and dancers, so maybe we should say that, although he may not know it, Holcombe Waller is part of the Naghali or Pardeh-khaani. Nuts-and-boltswise, he writes and sings songs that remind us of Colin Meloy: biting Don McLean's tenor and leaning toward epic storytelling. Into the Dark Unknown finds him using ordinary cardboard boxes and regular-looking tables, chairs, and lamps to build little pedestals or fortresses for himself, while fantastically outsize projections sometimes purposefully upstage him on the backdrop. He's barefoot, he's singing, he doesn't seem to care, he's chanting the story of Atlas, who's "going back on the drugs. I want to see every leaf on every tree." Onstage with him is a calmly brilliant set of musicians, mostly classical in style; French horn, violin, that kind of thing, but more in the vein of rock-operatics than conservatory wonks. Can't wait to see what he'll do with all the money people will soon be throwing at him.
March 5-8, 8 p.m., 2009

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