Photographs by Matthew Lomanno for Amoskeag Studio
MANCHESTER, NH – Brian Booth slings his guitar over his shoulder and steps to the mic. What you expect to happen next is for him to launch into a series of mellow singer-songwriter tunes strung together for a pleasant evening of original music at Amoskeag Studio.
That, you soon discover, is only the half of it.
Booth, illuminated in waves of pastel spotlight, strums and sings and sends out vibrations that settle in deep. The shape of his silhouette outlined on a far wall reinforces the solitude of the performance.
He finishes the song and the audience applauds. Then, a gap of silence. Booth waits, like a stage actor transitioning to the next act.
And then his monologue begins, and you understand that you are witness to something you’ve never seen before, a “play with music,” as Booth describes it later, written and performed by one talented guy.
By the time he is finished his musical soliloquy, you have been transported by “Red Bird” to some other place, to some other world where the weight of it all fills in the space between Booth and the audience, until there is no void.
It is part short story, part poetry in motion, part rock opera; the sum of the whole is like stepping inside an other-worldly graphic novel.
Four performances of “Red Bird” will run over two weekends, May 8, 9, 15, 16, at Amoskeag Studio, an intimate funky space on the second-floor of the Waumbec Mill building, 250 Commercial Street, Suite 2007 (South entrance). The studio, which doubles as the home of Matthew Lomanno Photography, provides a much-needed venue here for those looking for something more intimate than the Verizon, and less commercial than the Palace Theatre.
The studio is run by Lomanno and his wife Jessica.
In an Actor’s Studio-style Q&A with Booth following a preview show held last week, Booth talked about his love of theater, which developed from his interests as a kid growing up in rural New Hampshire’s North Country, and attending summer stock performances.
“Sometime in the late ’80s they did a show called ‘Billy Bishop Goes to War,’ which is a Canadian play, basically a one-man show – well two guys – one man and a piano player, and this one man gives the exploits of his life as a flying ace during the first World War. It blew my mind that I could sit there in this little barn with bats flying around, and just a man with very simple costume could just stand there and engage a hundred people for a couple of hours all by himself, without any sort of spectacle,” says Booth. “That stuck in my mind for a very long time. It was formative.”
It’s the stripped down nature of that play that appealed to Booth, artistically, and compelled him to write “Red Bird” around a set of songs he previously composed.
“It started as a road story,” he says. “My wife and I got married one month after September 11, and we adventured through the south and southwest. There were all these strange characters we encountered along the way.”
The trip culminated with a stop at the Grand Canyon, which was unsettling to them, and then a surreal and somewhat supernatural encounter with a nameless, faceless force of nature that both he and his wife experienced while trying to sleep in their tent.
In the aftermath, Booth tried to put it all into words, which evolved into a fictionalized version of the trip, which further developed into something completely different, which resulted in “Red Bird,” a simple play with eloquent words and haunting music, carried by themes vivid enough to hold an audience rapt for an hour, and vague enough to keep the mind reeling long after the show ends.
By his own description, Booth loosely describes “Red Bird” as “the story of a lonely man in some future America overcome by calamity, discovering solace in the company of an enigmatic stranger who may be something more than human.”
He says the story takes place in a location not unlike his North Country hometown, set in a future where some worst-case scenario has become reality.
“I got to thinking what if things really did fall apart and you were stuck up there, what would you do and what kind of world would that be? I just kind of explored that,” says Booth.
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