1 August 2017 11:04AM
Frank Boyd is a furious, hilarious writer/director/actor who did exactly what I had hoped for last Sunday night.
He taught me to love jazz.
His relationship with music so demanding it seems to kill all its best interpreters at tragically young ages, is pure and complete and informed, and maybe obsessive, but who cares? It’s a beautiful thing, and he conveys it with humor and anger, but mostly love.
The Holler Sessions is a one-character play, and Boyd is a one-man band, a DJ named Ray, who is indistinguishable from Frank, playing his own script for all its worh. Actor and writer are so inextricably bound that it’s hard to imagine any other actor in the role, because part of what makes this piece so effective is its truth.
Entertaining though it is, and it’s on my short list of the most entertaining evenings I’ve ever spent in a theater, Boyd is not just a showman. Yes, he’s an attention-getter, a rapid fire standup comic who does great improv. Even when he’s on script, he seems to be reacting in real time. But the attention he wants and gets is for his beloved subject. He’s a true teacher, and a tough one; this is not a gut course. He demands that you hear what he hears, feel what he feels. Maybe that’s impossible, but you can come damn close. Because when you’re not laughing out loud, you’re swooning over Charlie Parker or Louis Armstrong or Nina Simone or Billie Holliday. And maybe he’s a potty-mouthed cokehead (he has nosebleeds and his energy is more than a little manic), he’s also a one-man army in the war against forgetting one of the only truly American art forms. And when Frank/Ray says that Armstrong’s 1928 recording of “West End Blues” is “the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard”, or that “a guitar will never have the emotional potential of a horn”, I believe him. And I love the music he loves like never before.
And now a word about our sponsors.
One of the governing facts of life in Columbia and Greene Counties is that it gets culturally richer every year. With respect to the stage, more and more New York and New York caliber theater gets here, and gets made here. This is thanks to Bridge Street Theater in Catskill, the much-missed-but-hopefully soon-to-return-in-a-new-space Stageworks in Hudson, and Ancram Opera House.
Jeff Mousseau and Paul Ricciardi, who bought the lovely little building on Route 7 a couple of years ago, produce and direct good work themselves, but they also bring theater made elsewhere to the lovely little hamlet of Ancram. “The Holler Sessions”, for example, was made in Seattle, and has played/will play in Detroit, New York, Minneapolis, Portland … and Ancram.
Mousseau and Ricciardi have endeared themselves to me and many others I know, for taking on a mission that may have seemed quixotic at first, and probably still does. But they’re doing it. And I for one (and R.O. Blechman for another) appreciate their understanding that rebranding a cultural institution redolent with history can drain the lifeblood from its walls.
Like similar theaters all over New York State and beyond, the theater on Route 7 was named sometime in the 19th century, when small towns and cities called their theaters opera houses to raise their cultural and social profiles, whether or not opera was ever performed there. It rarely was. So thankfully, unlike Hudson Opera House, the lovely little building and the lovely little theater it contains, are now, and hopefully forever, Ancram Opera House.
But I digress. There was a surprise ending last Sunday, a coda to the play itself, which may have been unique to Ancram, a twenty-minute set played by four young musicians from Bard, who suddenly appeared on the madly cluttered tiny set after the last blackout—Paul Duhe’ III, Alto Sax; Alden Slack, Baritone Sax; Andrei Kvapil, bass; Patrick Robinson, drums—and sent us dreamily out into a perfect midsummer night.