The Performant: Strangers in a strange land

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Dan Carbone and Kitka resculpt old terrain

From the dark corner of the stage throbs the low rhythm of a skin-clad, Celtic-style drum and the strum of acoustic guitar, while in the light a man clad in a white dress shirt sways in hypnotic time, eyes shut tight, arms flung wide. “Sleeping, sleeping,” he croons softly, “I’m only sleeping.” Still swaying, he begins to tell the tale from the beginning, about a little baby boy whose “brain is knitting itself in an unusual way.”

You’d be forgiven for thinking in this first moment that the man is speaking of his own infancy, after all, brains don’t come knit much more unusually than that of East Bay-based avant-gardian Dan Carbone. But the infant’s name is not Dan’s, and though his brief and tragic backstory reverberates through much of the rest of the play, the infant soon yields the spotlight to his younger brother, the creator of the piece, “Father Panic,” which made its stage debut at the Garage on Friday. 

Although “Father Panic,” is indubitably Carbone’s most autobiographical work, a fretful monologue about a precocious childhood both hideously warped yet strangely innocent, familiarly eccentric, flourishes abound throughout. Puppets, poltergeists, twisted songs that expose the tortured inner monologues of the characters to the surface, a live video installation curated by Philip Bonner (a.k.a. Bulk Foodveyor) of childhood detritus and memory bank fodder.

Catherine Debon takes a turn as television-land language teacher, who translates self-loathing lyrics such as “maybe we can hate ourselves together,” into mellifluous French. And instrumentation is handily provided by swampabilly guitarist Andrew Goldfarb, who comprises, with Carbone, the performative music duo The Wounded Stag. But the unacknowledged star of the show is probably Carbone’s mother, who gradually takes over the piece, a raw bundle of outré obsessions and an embattled nature, the very embodiment of a stranger in a strange land — like a Raëlian without a cause, or an aquatic African frog in a solitary tank.

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The mountains of Serbia, and a vocal tradition almost unknown this side of the “pond,” lie thousands of miles away from the basements of Connecticut. But an intriguing collaboration between Kitka, Oakland’s premiere ensemble of acapella Eastern European music and Svetlana Spajic, a renowned Serbain folk singer, brought that faraway land to stirring life during a two-part concert staged over the weekend at CounterPULSE.

After a video of venerable vocalist Jandrija Baljak teaching his technique to Spajic’s homeland ensemble, the concert began in earnest when Spajic took the stage. Dressed in Sunday best attire suggesting a peasant en route to Ellis Island circa 1914, Spajic’s passionate ululations did little to dispel the sensation of being transported backwards through time and space. Joined in the second half by Kitka, the remaining songs were characterized by an almost medieval lack of vibrato and elongated interludes of dissonant voice-bending harmonies. Even when comprehension of the lyrics was impossible, the music tapped into a complexity of almost primal emotion—though some slyly inserted San Francisco-centric lines did bring us briefly back to home before we were whisked once more into the territory of the unfamiliar by our fearless musical guides.

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