[originally published: http://aislesay.com/CHI-CLAY.html%5D


Written and performed by Matt Sax
Developed in collaboration with and Directed by Eric Rosen
About Face Theatre and Lookingglass Chase Studio Theatre
821 North Michigan Avenue at Pearson / (312) 337-0665
Through November 19, 2006

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
September 14, 2006

Mesmerized by moments — my three word review of “Clay“, a hip hop rhapsody, one man showcase, and 75-minute storytelling adventure crafted by Northwestern graduate and intensely talented Matt Sax . This event directed by Eric Rosen is the first performance to be showcased in the spectacular new black box space on the second floor of Lookingglass Theatre, and it shows off this intimate space in delightful ways.

“Clay” is the story of Cliff (Matt Sax), a white child who survives family dysfunction and disruption, and a wide range of parental misdeeds, and finds his voice (and his new name Clay) through hip hop via a street musician to whom he connects. Sax is a spectacularly talented morphing theatrical event in one package: mime, voicing, hip hop, and to my more conventional music loving ears, occasionally shows that he has a marvelous singing voice and the ability to approach almost any musical genre.

I must say my older sensibilities resisted the underlying story Cliff/Clay tells — let’s just say one or two examples of egregious physical and psychic violence aren’t enough for this storyteller. Are all of these examples of pain and angst is necessary to generate sympathy for our character and to justify his journey?

The world of this particular story is created and lived by a white boy doing hip hop. It is not entirely clear why this particular music speaks to the character Cliff/Clay so strongly – we must just accept it. The music in the show is composed by Matt Sax, Johnny Williams and Jon Schmidt. I will leave it to those more familiar with this musical genre to discuss whether the music succeeds sui generis. I will say that the entire effect as a wash of sound is captivating.

There are moments of magic in this production, and some sequences that are theatrical gems — selected sequences in which Max demonstrates astounding physical skills at transforming himself from character to character. The lighting designed by Christopher Ash can be quickly and intensely dramatic before the thick red curtains using pinpoint spots and other schemes. How much of this setting was designed specifically for this performance by Meghan Raham and how much is permanent remains to be seen with subsequent productions. However dressed, this space could be a fabulous location for cabaret performance.

Sax’s vocalization skills will evoke for the listener Al Jarreau or (depending upon your age) Danish-born pianist and comic Victor Borge, known for his Phonetic Punctuation routine. Sax follows in a tradition of master storytellers and vocal gymnasts. His skills are worth observing. It will be fascinating to see what he comes up with next.

© Martha Wade Steketee (September 14, 2006)

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