Written and Performed by David Lee Morgan
Part of the 2019 FRIGID New York Festival
Off Off Broadway, Spoken Word Musical Theatre
Runs through 3.9.18
IATI Theater, 64 East 4th Street
by Ran Xia on 2.26.19
David Lee Morgan in River of Fire. Photo by Chantal Guevara.
BOTTOM LINE: In this spoken word musical theatre performance, David Lee Morgan imagines a post-nuclear warfare future through the lenses of both humans and computers.
With his solo show River of Fire, David Lee Morgan brings an original blend of spoken word poetry and musical theatre to a a sci-fi narrative, in which the creator/performer presents a solo version of a piece that's written for multiple people. The bifocal narratives are set simultaneously in Dhaka and Los Angeles, in a post nuclear warfare near-future (the year 2035) where the U.S. military has destroyed the Los Angeles Commune. Morgan performs original spoken word poems and songs as several characters, including Jesse, a veteran of the South Asian War; his mother Amparo, a leader of the Communie; Hamida, a leader of the South Asian Socialist Alliance; and Hamida's daughter Sulthana. Through the various perspectives of these characters, we recognize a love story between Jesse and Sulthana, and ache for their fates. We are also introduced to the character of a singularity: a digital consciousness that both serves as a witness of the tale, as well as a counterpoint. In fact, Morgan becomes most captivating when he takes on the persona of the computer/artificial intelligence, channeling a humanity by broadcasting the information streaming through the simulated "cloud" in which it exists.
Morgan's performance is earnest and passionate, and to be sure, it's refreshing to see a piece of theatre that both pushes the boundary of form and is grounded in heartfelt emotion. The entire performance is underscored, which would be my main criticism. The music at times distracts from the story, overpowering the text, which already has enough musicality and rhythm to be impactful on its own. With such a dense and poetic text, I found myself longing for simplicity and focus. But it's easy to recognize the potential of this complex, provocative, and even romantic story. I truly hope it will live on and continue to evolve.
(River of Fire plays at the IATI Theater, 64 East 4th Street, through March 9, 2019. The running time is 1 hour. Performances are Sat 2/23 at 12:30, Tue 2/26 at 7:10, Thu 2/28 at 10:30, Sat 3/2 at 7:10, Fri 3/8 at 10:30, and Sat 3/9 at 8:50. Tickets are $15 and are available at horsetrade.info.)
River of Fire is written and performed by David Lee Morgan.