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Tucked in a dark corner of the West Bank, shrouded by Riverside Plaza— Ralph Rapson's funky, failed '70s social experiment—and simultaneously beside and a million miles away from I-94, I-35W, and the light rail, Bedlam Theatre waits for you.
"The only place to hear the truth spoken in all of England is among the madmen of Bedlam," went a quote from the heyday of the famous asylum, the theater's namesake. Truth or no, something countercultural is happening under the high ceilings and within the brick walls of Bedlam. Every Wednesday night, this divine madness sounds in the form of singing saw and accordion and calls itself Dreamland Faces.
The musicians stand on a diminutive stage beside a defunct fireplace with sturdy gray robots perched on its mantle. The bustle of instrument cases being closed and stands being adjusted has stopped. Andy McCormick, a tall man with a serious widow's peak and Buddy Holly glasses, begins to sing.
WhenMcCormick sings he loses control of his facial expressions, yet appears to be having a time so good most Lutherans would deem his performance illegal. Karen Majewicz stands beside him, working her accordion and watching him with warm eyes full of soft delight. The tune is "I'm a Dreamer," an old Lew Brown number—and if you know who Lew Brown is, you're either an octogenarian or onstage.
What makes Dreamland Faces countercultural isn't manufactured outrage or iconoclasm or looking funny, but that they put on a show from another time, a time not of this culture. Call it cabaret.
Wikipedia says, "Cabaret is a form of entertainment featuring comedy, song, dance, and theater, distinguished mainly by the performance venue—a restaurant or nightclub with a stage for performances and the audience sitting at tables (often dining or drinking)." That's Bedlam. Wikipedia also says, "Cabaret in the United States began to disappear in the Sixties, due to the rising popularity of rock concert shows" (hence the irony of McCormick's Buddy Holly look).
Lew Brown's "I'm a Dreamer" comes from the soundtrack of Sunnyside Up, one of the first talkies, from 1929. McCormick and Majewicz are fond of early film, and on several occasions have performed live alongside showings of Buster Keaton or D.W. Griffith silents. Other songs in their repertoire include "Je Sais Comment," by Edith Piaf, and one they claim to be an old Baghdad folk song called "Black Cat," in which Majewicz sings with a tone I can only describe as a feral yet focused vibrato with hints of the otherworldly.
Dreamland Faces would be notable enough for the unusual set list, but the cherry on top is that the musicians are virtuosos. McCormick handles the saw with an expert's ease, and the sounds he makes are angelic. Majewicz knows her way around an accordion like a cat knows its paw. They're often joined by Josef Evans on piano, Kristin Froebel on a soprano curved bell sax, Steve Sandberg on tuba and trombone (not at the same time), and Randall Throckmorton, who sings and plays banjo ukulele. Randall's an accomplished songwriter and often sings his charming yet melancholy tune, "Only My Pillow Hears Me Cry."
On Wednesdays at Bedlam, you never know what might happen. On December 10, the 16-piece Barebones Orchestra roiled up and over the stage and filled half the room, playing a set of rolling, harmonic songs for the packed house. The week before, the stars of one of Bedlam's upcoming plays stepped out of rehearsal and onstage to perform an anti-holiday routine.
Nevertheless, Majewicz says, "It's still not as cabaret as we'd like. But we're working on it."
Majewicz was talking about the atmosphere, I think. To quote Wikipedia again, "People felt comfortable at the cabaret: They did not have to take off their hat, could talk, eat, and smoke when they wanted to, etc. They did not have to stick to the usual rules of society." Indeed, that's exactly what it feels like Bedlam and Dreamland Faces want: a respite from our discomfiting social norms, a place to kick back, sigh, and feel all right. So, come on in some Wednesday night. Grab a PBR or a glass of wine. They'll be waiting.
Oh and by the way, the show's free.
DREAMLAND FACES play every Wednesday night, including this WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, at BEDLAM THEATRE; 612.341.1038