Review: VesperTime, Chelsea Theatre

VesperTime Chelsea TheatreWith VesperTime Stacy (or is it Tracy?) Makishi continues in her inimical style. She continues to be outrageous, to blend film, music, story and truth in what is often a mind-bending mass of cultural references, almost coming together into a coherent mass. Stacy takes the delight of a conspiracy theorist in the diverse and surprising connections she manages to make in her journey towards something like profundity, only with less of the paranoia and more of the barely containable joy. She has said that she wants “the audience to experience a complicated laughter”, and it is perhaps unsurprising that Makishi’s first experience of performance was in stand-up comedy.

But VesperTime is a part of a step-change in her work; Stacy Makishi has found religion, or something like it. Working with her atheist minister Andy Pakula (who walked in five minutes to the performance, and was of course greeted with a warm welcome by Makishi, mid-flow) she delivers, in VesperTime, a “performance meets rock concert meets subversive sermon”, and “a secular evening prayer shot through with her characteristic wit”. This process began earlier in the year, as part of her LADA DIY, Uncivil Partnership¸ culminating in a ceremony at Andy Pakula’s Unitarian Church New Unity, in which the audience (myself included) were married to themselves. Like VesperTime, it may have seemed comedic and trivial on the surface, but contained a moving and sincere inducement to self-acceptance, and unconditional self-love.

This piece certainly has more heart, and less irony than a lot of her previous work, though it is always difficult to separate performance, persona and person in the case of Stacy Makishi, almost as difficult as it is to stop perennially reading irony into work which may or may not contain it. Throughout the production she makes various direct attempts to bring us together as a community, to get us to greet people we don’t know in the audience, something which those of us with a religious upbringing may remember, and cringe. But this sincerity, perhaps unusual for live art, is not unrestrained. With her usual trickery and humour we are told to greet each other with a Hawaiian saying, which turns out to be almost identical to the elongated ‘I’, in ‘And I had a feeling that I belonged’, in the bridge of Tracy Chapman’s song Fast Car, and as usual it is impossible to tell which came first, and which originated only in Makishi’s fertile imagination.

Belonging and coming to terms with one’s past run through the show, and it is genuinely moving, though undercut throughout by humour of the most complex kind. Never mind that the people she is inducing to accept each other for the most part already know each other, as this is the live art community, where Makishi seems to be almost universally loved. But Makishi’s crafting of tenuous webs of links and narratives are by now virtuosic, and an absolute pleasure to watch. If you are as yet uninitiated into her fan club, go and see one of her performances. It won’t take her long.

VesperTime played at the Chelsea Theatre. For more information, see the Chelsea Theatre website.

Simon Holton

Since returning to the UK after sojourns in the German-speaking world, Simon has plunged himself headfirst into the world of theatre, as both a creator and consumer. Actor-in-training and self-confessed Germanophile, Simon is pursuing diverse interests in experimental and fringe theatre.