Words like “quirky” and offbeat” only scratch the surface in describing the antics of the veteran theater troupe the Talking Band, who has been creating shows for 30 years. Their latest invention,
The Peripherals, now at Dixon Place, hews closely to the company’s mission statement of “illuminating the extraordinary dimensions of ordinary life.” Its title refers both to people who go unnoticed in daily life and the name of the band whose concert we witness.
The show begins long before anything happens, subverting David Mamet’s structural tenet of “coming late and leaving early.” (Indeed, on the night I attended, folk singer Loudon Wainwright III played a pre-show surprise set in the Dixon’s bar space, so coming really early might be advised).
As the lights fade up, the stage is bare except for a pared-down drum set, a guitar amp, and a couple chairs. The space between on and off stage is just one of the themes that creator Ellen Maddow sharply explores in the piece, which is directed with subtle nuance by Ken Rus Schmoll.
Soon, we hear the radio playing offstage, and Fizz (Sam Kulik), the group’s bassist, guitarist, and trombonist — who bears a slight resemblance to Les Claypool — enters with his monitor speaker then ambles off. Others appear and disappear as the stage gets set. Singers wander in and characters begin to be revealed. When the first notes are finally struck and Suzy Q (played by Maddow) launches into a high-energy punkish song about the way her Aunt Suzanne would wash spinach, it’s jarring.
Paul Zimet (Maddow’s husband and the company’s artistic director) plays Suzy Q’s longtime friend, Sluice, an aging artist who’s still struggling to embrace his creative voice. He’s shy on stage, aloof (and forgets to put his pants on when he first enters), and sensitive with an intense attachment to his dog, Roxy. Sluice perhaps has the greatest arc of any of the show’s characters — Zimet plays him with understated brilliance — and emerges a newly realized man by the end of the show.
True to their name, Talking Band interrupts Maddow’s songs with, well, a lot of talking. Some is just innocuous but occasionally there’s a profound utterance. Midway through the show, backup singer Luscious (Kim Gambino) falls deep into thought, prompting others to ask if she’s okay.
Then she poses a question she’s been wrestling with. “If you think you know a person, and then you find out something surprising about that person, something you never expected to be true about that person — are they still them, or have they become someone else?”