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Skillful, sharp vignettes awash in beautiful music, but lacking forward motion

Wednesday, Apr 2 2003
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Director Corey Fischer's sleek experiment with a series of new Psalm translations by Norman Fischer (no relation) is a patchwork of music, storytelling, movement, and song. In a cold, modern office, with glass desks suspended from cables covered in useless paper, three suited bureaucrats chant fractured "psalm fugues" or interrogate one another like nightmare agents from the INS. (A motif of interrogation runs through the piece, like "a cruel parody of the 'I-Thou' relationship the Psalms reach toward," according to program notes.) The actors also tell stories from their own childhoods. These personal segments are -- as you'd expect -- the most interesting parts of the show. Rhonnie Washington remembers "White" and "Colored" water fountains and a stepfather who smashed his first guitar. David Roche describes doctors investigating his birth defect (malformed cheeks and jaw), and Annie Kunjappy describes moving from Malaysia to India as a young girl. All three actors are skillful and sharp; they respond sensitively to Daniel Hoffman's washes of live music -- from an electric guitar, a violin, and a Turkish oud -- and each individual bit has been polished to a gleam. But there's no forward motion. The "story of a human soul moving from anger to outrage to outcry to hope to praise ..." that Fischer wants to show us is still a little obscure, and even at 80 minutes the show feels overlong.

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