I can’t remember the first Richard Maxwell song I heard. But I do remember, and clearly, how I felt when his New York City Players massed on the stage and lifted their voices—those oh-so-vulnerable, unladen voices—forming a humble, even ragged harmony. It surprised me, completely. And yet it felt entirely inevitable.
I never, ever, ever get why people find Maxwell’s productions mechanical or dry. For me, they are bursting with rich, unruly, often painful emotions. I sort of think that every one of his plays is, at its heart, about the human heart: what it yearns for, what it knows it cannot have and still desperately seeks. Only he wants to avoid having his actors supply his audience with ready-made, easily digestible feelings. He wants to give us the space in which to figure things out for ourselves. Space … is there anything better in a theater? I can’t think what. Maxwell creates space by a scrupulous adherence to an open delivery.
So, but, he also wants to show us his own feelings. And that’s where the songs come in, in all of their awkward, here-is-my-heart glory. Hurrah for that.
Click the triangle/play button below to hear the recording:
Want more? Head on over to the Whitney Museum, where Maxwell and company are holding court on the fourth floor as the Biennial’s latest performing arts residents. Tomorrow through the 29th, they’ll be “reframing rehearsal as an open and publicly presented activity,” embarking on a new original play. With any luck, they’ll sing.