THE FULL NELSON written and performed by Donald Carr, directed by Ronald Weihs. Presented by Artword, DC Productions and AfriCan Theatre Ensemble at Artword (75 Portland). Runs to February 13, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $30, stu/srs $25, Sunday pwyc. 416-366-7723 ext 290. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Donald Carr is a charismatic theatre artist whose work is full of poetry and movement. His latest piece, The Full Nelson , muses on both the black and the human experience from creation to the present day.
At two and a half hours, though, it's occasionally repetitious and too much to absorb in one sitting.
In a series of six sections, the always passionate Carr takes on different narrative personas - a black angel, a Pied Piper, a Caribbean carnival figure called the Midnight Robber - to offer thoughts on politics, racism, sex, black history, jazz, violence and other topics.
His style is associative, with one word, idea or sound leading to another; he's good at using puns and other wordplay to link seemingly disparate things. Clever and sometimes startling in its yoking together of imagery, the text draws on nursery rhymes, pop tunes, fairy tales, creation legends, classical music, TV shows and just about anything else Carr's omnivorous mind has assimilated.
But it's far more than a spoken word show, for the lithe Carr, directed by Ronald Weihs , physicalizes his ideas in sinuous dance and double-jointed acrobatics on Judith Sandiford 's multilevel set, often to a slide show backdrop. One moment he's a two-dimensional Egyptian wall painting, later a grinning riddler who could have stepped out of Lewis Carroll, and then a 50s cool cat with all the right moves.
Some elements of the show are only partly successful. Thomas Baker 's live piano and synthesizer music works best in the Pied Piper section; in others it's a distraction and can obscure Carr's words. The text sometimes makes Carr's point again and again, and trimming would increase the play's theatricality.
Yes, there's a section devoted to Nelson Mandela as one of a number of blacks throughout history who give us, as Carr says, "a quick course in miracles."
You can't help but admire Carr's mind and energy, and the optimism underlying his look at a troubled world. A smaller package, though, would work even better.