I sampled classic light verse brought to life, cutting-edge testimony from the spoken-word and standup comedy scenes, and the art of tap dance historically considered.
It's been decades since the verse of Robert W. Service, James Whitcomb Riley, Hilaire Belloc and Alfred Noyes has jangled around in my head. At the Phoenix Underground, "A Darkly Humorous Evening with Stephen Vincent Giles" rang those bells all over again with a flair I was never able to manage.
|Stephen Vincent Giles: Drenched in the comical macabre.|
Giles, with some funky wardrobe changes and low-tech projected title and author identification to one side, brings into fresh perspective the sounds of poetry meant to be understood and enjoyed at first hearing.
This is the genre that Edward Lear perfected on the plain of nonsense, G.K. Chesterton in the arenas of war and religion, and Rudyard Kipling at sea and the far reaches of the British Empire. The multifaceted Indianapolis performer focuses on the subgenre of verse narratives, with humorously doleful limericks by the inimitable Edward Gorey interpolated, that tend toward the macabre and ghostly.
The climax of the show is a vivid, increasingly despairing, reciting of "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe. It's a poem so famous it even provided the name of the football team that just edged the Colts in a preseason game. And to think Poe never did much for the Ravens' home city (originally the Colts') except die there. That's poetic influence writ large!
Though Giles' program consisted of pieces with a strong "tum-ta-tum-ta-tum" metric stress, he was never metronomic in performing them. Letting meter and rhyme take care of themselves, thanks to his poets' adept prosody, Giles went for the expressive content of the selections, from "The Raven" to the drolly gruesome "Ballad of Blasphemous Bill" by the Anglo-Canadian versifier Service. In the latter case, the recitation was supplemented by simple projected illustrations of the frozen protagonist and the coffin the narrator made for him. In getting the former to fit the latter, some disassembly is required, which the poem amusingly frets over.
Giles' show displays a masterly command of his material's way of getting under your skin. Every time Noyes' Highwayman comes riding, riding, and every time Riley warns that
|"The Rhythm Chronicles" celebrates the variety of tap dance.|