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Review: Cause for "Celebration"

This little wanderer had plenty to ponder about this week.

Denver-based actor -- and deep soul -- Cajardo Lindsey announced a bold feature film project: “Nobody,” about a blackface performer with grander aspirations than being (just) a famous entertainer. (More on this soon.) "Hale County This Morning, This Evening” opened at the Sie FilmCenter. RaMell Ross’s tone-poem beaut about some of the denizens of said Alabama county sat un-budged atop my Sundance 2018 "best of" list and is playing for at least another week in Denver. The feature documentary is among the contenders for an Oscar.

And, last Saturday brought a gratifying night of less-is-so-much-more theater. Namely, the guest run of “Celebration, Florida” at Buntport. The square product theatre production of Greg Wohead’s performance-based piece is directed by Emily K. Harrison. While "Celebration, Florida” gives more than a passing nod to Disney’s famous master-planned community, the place near Orlando is not its true subject.

The minimally staged piece starts off with a hokey archival promo made by a Central Florida realtor about the area and the wistful housing types found there before giving way to an achy dance of lonesomeness and connection. "Celebration, Florida" is as emotionally crafted and open to beautiful accidents as Celebration, FL was prefabricated. Though, come to think of it, that so-called "census-designated place" is surely vulnerable to tender human happenstance too.

Each night’s show finds two performers donning headphones and acting on pre-recorded instruction, a big screen behind them. That screen makes for a third character. All act as surrogates for the writer -- or do they?

Throughout the hour-long performance, various renditions of “Stand By Me” play, including co-writer Ben E. King’s original. There are upwards of 400 versions of the 1961 song. Can a soundtrack be monotonous and wondrous? Evidently.

In an article written for the London-based website Run Riot, Wohead imagines the precise moment when King and songwriting/producing team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller nailed the hit; he then writes of the motion-picture worthy scene:

It’s just the story you want behind an iconic, familiar, beloved song like Stand By Me, and in many ways it doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not....These kinds of stories exist for each of us in our own lives, I think: idealised movie-like versions of things that have happened to us, places we have been, people we have known. Sometimes we play up these memories, punch up the dialogue, heighten the drama. We make it make sense so that it adds up to what we know happened after.

The night I was lucky enough to attend, Ondine Geary and Betty Hart comprised the hard-working, nimble duo. Neither had met. Neither knew what was in store for them. Still they handled their roles in this rumination with ready grace. They also made for a visually pleasing, teasing paring.

Geary, who is white, is a Boulder-based choreographer and performer. She’s not tall but impressively thewy. On her website, she describes her own work as “scrappy.” It’s a apt description for her performance here, which was muscular, tenacious, charming.

Hart, who is black, is striking not least because her head is clean shaven. An increasingly familiar face in local theater (she’s directing “Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies" onstage at the Aurora Fox), Hart exuded a cool yet amiable clarity. Yes, even as she had no clue what was next for her or for Geary. There came a moment when Hart took off the headphones and addressed the audience, recounting changes to a dear friendship that occurred once she relocated from Atlanta to Colorado. It was a bittersweet, unexpected biographical note, in line with Wohead’s notions about the stories we tell -- and hone -- about ourselves.

That’s as much as I’m going to spoil it for you. Considering the performers yet to come this weekend and next, I expect still more evocative and touching chemistry.

Something of a side note: It’s good to have square product’s producing artistic director, Harrison, back from a stint in London. The theater company is among those keeping Boulder fertile for some damn intriguing theater. And bless Buntport for offering their home base to like-spirited artists and being open to new collaborations. “Celebration” continues at Buntport tonight and Saturday then moves to Boulder's Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut St., Feb. 6-9

Looking for more theater coverage? Click here for reviews of “Gloria” at Curious Theatre Co. (through Feb. 16) and the world premiere of Donnetta Lavinia Grays’s “Last Night and the Night Before” at the Denver Center through Feb. 24.

Photo: "Celebration, Florida" performed at London's Soho Theatre. Credit: Matthew Cawrey

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