As I tried to wrap my mind around the sheer brilliance I had just witnessed in The Band's Visit, a lyric from the Kander and Ebb musical Zorba came to mind: "Life is what you do while you're waiting to die. This is how the time goes by!"
That pretty much sums up the action (and lack of it) in this remarkable study of culture clash and culture bonding in the middle of nowhere. In what could have been an explosive, violent meeting, ordinary people are tested when strangers come to town, and choose communication, charity and caring over mistrust, anger and hate. It is as much about what is not said in long periods of silence as what is said in Itamar Moses' fat-free book. And then there is the music - the gorgeous, evocative music and poetic lyrics by David Yazbek.
|Katrina Lenk, Tony Shalhoub (center) and Company|
I've long been a fan of this four-time Tony nominee's work, but this score is on a whole new level. Each song takes you to a new emotional place, some funny, some wistful, still others full of hope, but all infused with of-the-moment urgency that simultaneously keeps you grounded and able to surrender to a place that will be foreign to most observers. Highlights of this thoroughly brilliant score include the witty "Welcome to Nowhere," the epic grandeur of "Omar Sharif," the awkwardness of youth in "Papi Hears the Ocean," the longing of "Something Different," and the haunting, profoundly moving coming together of everyone in "Answer Me."
|Katrina Lenk and Tony Shalhoub|
|Adam Kantor - Telephone Guy|
This quiet gem creeps up on you. It feels like nothing is happening and like everything life has to offer is happening all at once. Many times, it is the wordless scenes where everyone is searching for ways to connect. Sometimes it is the small details - the purpose-filled cutting of a watermelon for sharing, the way a father picks up his crying baby in the absence of its mother, the way a lost band lines up to leave a newly familiar, but welcoming, town. Sometimes it is the grand gestures - sharing a family dinner with a stranger and forcing him to play his own music, a stranger showing a young man how to overcome painful shyness to put the moves on a pretty girl, a dinner out punctuated by a tense confrontation. Would that there was more of this kind of story happening in the real world. Hate is the easy way out; communication and understanding should be just as easy. Big or small, there isn't a bad or wasted moment in the entire 90 minutes. Brilliant.
(Photos by J. Kyler, M. Murphy)