Tracks of her tears

The Dresden Dolls rock The Onion Cellar
By CAROLYN CLAY  |  December 19, 2006

061222_inisde_onion
A DRAMATURGICAL TRAIN WRECK? Nope — the Dolls wag this theater piece.
There are tears but no onions in The Onion Cellar (at Zero Arrow Theatre through January 13). But who needs emotionally catalytic root vegetables when you have the Dresden Dolls? The powerful punk cabaret duo are the reverberating center of the Günter Grass–inspired theater work that the American Repertory Theatre, under the direction of Marcus Stern, has bounced off them. Just the chance to see and hear Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione at close range in the fabulous club carved out of Zero Arrow by set designer Christine Jones is worth clamoring for. If there is no direct evocation of The Tin Drum’s post-war Düsseldorf boîte, to which patrons repaired to cut onions and spill repressed emotions, there is a similar mix of surrealism and detail: a winsome young woman in a bear suit connects mysteriously with a bartender; a twitching lad called Onion Boy engages in furtive licking with a mate called Mute Girl. And despite some missteps, the central tale wedged in poetic fragments amid the nightclub patter does link to the Dolls’ songs, leading up to Palmer’s savage rejection of an abandoning father in “Half Jack.” Here the unresponsive dad — the Onion Cellar owner, mostly as mute as Mute Girl and deep in his cups — gets not so much an exorcism as a strange present. But this is no dramaturgical train wreck, as newspaper interviews may have led you to expect. The Dolls wag the theater piece, but at least the tale is a tail.

ART approached Palmer about collaborating, and she plugged the invitation into a long-simmering desire to adapt the “In the Onion Cellar” chapter of The Tin Drum. What she had in mind involved real raw onions, real raw emotions, and Nazis. What Stern has shaped from material contributed by Palmer, writer Jonathan Marc Sherman, himself, designer Jones, consultant Anthony Martignetti, “and the cast of The Onion Cellar” is less raw than shattered and dreamy: a fable of an abandoned daughter who as a child collected tears in Mason jars and who was later killed in a car crash, having tried for years to make connection with long-gone dad. Also on tap is a continuing story told by red-clad and ruffled Remo Airaldi as the club’s MC about growing up in Peru a sensitive lad given to crying that infuriated his macho dad. For comic relief that doesn’t quite work, Karen MacDonald and Thomas Derrah turn up at the bar (there is one, as well as a punk-Weimar-clad wait staff) as a middle-aged Midwestern couple traveling the country in an RV named Harvey.

Meanwhile, the Dolls put on an electric show, drumsticks exploding from Viglione’s hands, Palmer attacking her keyboard like a pugilist as she puts an affecting strain on both her larynx and her emotions. The bristling 90-minute set includes — in addition to a slinky, Weill-like introduction to the Onion Cellar penned and sung by Palmer — Dolls signature tunes including “Necessary Evil,” “Good Day,” “Coin-Operated Boy,” “Delilah,” “Sex Changes,” and “Sing,” with Viglione letting loose at one point with a long, impossibly athletic drum solo that brings the house down. Derrah, in the guise of a disturbed man trussed up in tape, also takes the stage, turning in a rhythmic screed that falls somewhere between auctioneering and a vocal drum solo.

1  |  2  |   next >
Related: All Dolled up, Growing pains, Crying game, More more >
  Topics: Theater , Entertainment, Music, Music Reviews,  More more >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY CAROLYN CLAY
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   ARTSEMERSON'S METAMORPHOSIS  |  February 28, 2013
    Gisli Örn Garðarsson’s Gregor Samsa is the best-looking bug you will ever see — more likely to give you goosebumps than make your skin crawl.
  •   CLEARING THE AIR WITH STRONG LUNGS AT NEW REP  |  February 27, 2013
    Lungs may not take your breath away, but it's an intelligent juggernaut of a comedy about sex, trust, and just how many people ought to be allowed to blow carbon into Earth's moribund atmosphere.
  •   MORMONS, MURDERERS, AND MARINERS: 10 THEATER SENSATIONS COMING TO BOSTON STAGES THIS SPRING  |  February 28, 2013
    Mitt Romney did his Mormon mission in France. But there are no baguettes or croissants to dip into the lukewarm proselytizing of bumbling elders Price and Cunningham, two young men sent by the Church of Latter-day Saints to convert the unfaithful of a Ugandan backwater in The Book of Mormon .
  •   THE HUMAN STAIN: LIFE AND DEATH IN MIDDLETOWN  |  February 22, 2013
    The New York Times dubbed Will Eno a “Samuel Beckett for the Jon Stewart generation.”
  •   ZEITGEIST STAGE COMPANY'S LIFE OF RILEY  |  February 22, 2013
    Sir Alan Ayckbourn has written more than 70 plays, most of which turn on an intricate trick of chronology or geography.

 See all articles by: CAROLYN CLAY