Jump-Start’s new double bill is perhaps the ultimate paradox.
The first half of the production — Finding Love in Wartime — is an original movement piece that tackles the fallout of war. With its choreographed dance and aerial acrobatics (courtesy of creator/director Sandy Dunn and aerial choreographer Teresa Tipping), bizarre piped-in sound effects, and somber tone — not to mention that the audience has to follow the performance in and out of the building on more than one occasion — it is the epitome of avant-garde theater.
Wartime is also quite drab and disappointing (more on this later).
The double-bill’s finale — Dino Foxx’s Memoirs of a Joto, Part I — is comparably straightforward. The story finds San Antonio native Foxx (who grew up on the city’s West Side) waxing philosophic on his tumultuous upbringing, failed relationships, and life as a homosexual in Latino culture. Memoirs is visually and emotionally pleasing, and unlike the accompanying Wartime (of which Foxx is also a cast member), it’s somewhat easy to follow the protagonist’s narrative — the highs (memories of his beloved aunt), the lows (his abusive deadbeat father), and the in-betweens (good relationships that inevitably go bad).
Foxx, a poet/activist/singer/dancer/etc., isn’t much for subtlety, choosing concrete detail over metaphor to describe harsh experiences, such as when his father would beat his mother so severely that she needed stiches (once even taking a 40-ounce bottle to her forehead). He talks of what life might have been like had his philandering father not walked out on Foxx’s family in the middle of the night.
But Foxx spends the majority of the 50-minute Memoirs detailing his life as a gay man. He doesn’t shy away from details, including the times he made love to straight men, or at least those who considered themselves such. He speaks graphically of rough, almost abusive sex, and all the relationships-gone-awry he has endured over the course of his life. These episodes reveal the qualities that make Foxx so magnetic as a performer. He is confident enough to air his life story before a sizable audience, and yet he appears insecure in his day-to-day existence. Perhaps it’s that emotional contrast that makes Memoirs of a Joto, Part I such a dazzling exercise in examining the human psyche.
Unfortunately, the same fulfillment isn’t derived from Finding Love in Wartime, which falls victim to being artsy for the sake of artsy. The one-hour performance, in which the cast (and audience) traverses back and forth between the the theater and the alley outside, is (the title suggests) trying to convey the emotional and mental toll of warfare on individuals and society. But, as conversations with several audience members during a 15-minute intermission confirmed, Wartime — with its screeching noises, inconsistent dialogue, and choppy choreography — was simply too abstract for even some of the theater diehards in attendance to grasp.
Were the performers (who did their best with the work supplied them) aiming to make an absolute anti-war statement? Or were they simply saying that war — while sometimes necessary — often leaves no winners at all? The choreography — particularly times when cast members hung from an outside rope ladder — came off somewhat amateurish, as if the performers hadn’t had adequate practice time on the ladder in the weeks leading up to the opening. Much of the choreography that took place within Jump-Start’s walls — particularly scenes of combat and gunfire — came off almost cartoonish in its over-dramatization.
Fortunately, Foxx’s Memoirs more than makes up for any first-half disappointment with a rousing one-man show that captures the essence of a battered — and beautiful — soul. •
Finding Love in Wartime/Memoirs of a Joto, Part I
Through Sep 28
Jump-Start Performance Co.
108 Blue Star