Posted by Rob McMahon
Note: This piece was created as part of the Kamikaze Writing Workshop with Elizabeth Zimmer of the Village Voice.
Gregg Whelan and Gary Winters are endearing chaps. At last year’s TBA, they had me from hello(actually an off-key, acapella version of Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road). Friday night at Corberry Press was no different. The performance duo know as Lone Twin are already in medias res as we walk up. With a two-step shuffle, Gregg is circling a gussied-up luggage bag. He’s admittedly wearing, “far too many clothes for a September day in Portland.” Gary, across the street, in similar garb and with matching suitcase, calls out instructions through a megaphone: “It’s the cutting of the hair; the barefoot on the railings; the way south…” With each command Gregg preforms the corresponding gesture. When he completes the sequence, Gary tags a new gesture on the end; gestures accumulate a la “The Ratlin Bog.” “Next is ‘the dream of his neck’ which is a rotating of the neck.” Gregg does. Says Gary, “That’s it.”
The soundtrack of classic folk tunes–played like the demo on your child’s casio keyboard–winds down as Gary calls Gregg over and explains why he’s been dancing in too many clothes. He’s been getting hot so that we, armed with glasses of Willamette river water the duo collected, can douse him in it when he takes off his shirts. This, we are told, will produce a cloud and in effect reconnect us to the water cycle. As an instramental version of Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” comes through a speaker in the suitcase, the audience half-heartedly sings along with Gregg. He has taken off his shirts, and at the chorus the water fies. Gary holds a flashlight to Gregg’s skin to reveal that he’s steaming. Success!! And this is really just the beginning.
What follows are 21 tales of happiness and woe, set to the same folk tune soundtrack. It’s a jigsaw puzzle of images and gestures, repeated over and over, altered slightly in each successive round. Every pass, reveals a little more of the essence of what they’re getting at. It’s ritualistic in nature, prophetic and mythological.
There are moments of extreme beauty, not least, the dispersion of cattail seeds to Springsteen’s “10th Avenue Freezeout.” They float and fall from the sky like, “brilliant,” “bloody” snow. I’m not sure, however, that these moments are enough to save the performance for most of the audience. To get it takes patience, and a willingness to meet them more than halfway, on their terms really. As they slowly elucidate the scene, Gregg and Gary are aware that this is a strain on us. They talk about it even, see it from our point of view. “This wasn’t on my ticket,” Gregg thinks for us, “Now I’m trapped here in this chair and I’m not free.” Nevertheless, I think it’s too much for some people who shift in their seats, grimace a little, try to smile, a forced smile, a confused smile. Couples exchange looks: “Whose idea was this anyway?”
Even for a fan of their work, the approach of the end is a relief. They take us back outside. The end is a repeat of the beginning, but it’s Gary now who takes off his shirts. Cat Stevens is back on the radio. In spite of all we’ve been through as an audience, moments of apparent boredom and confusion, this time we really sing. We belt out the choruses, perhaps now all the more aware of the wildness of the world.