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Theater Spotlight: Sindibad: Artist and Outlaw

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Sindibad O'Dell collaborates with six co-creators and 46 actors to illustrate both the culturally universal and the odd and distinctive aspects of his life, and the results are (appropriately enough) all over the place. We begin in the 1950s, with images of McCarthy, Sputnik, the Cuban missile crisis—all the usual suspects. But along the way Sindibad punctuates the narrative with details of his own: violence in the house, a massive head injury as a young boy, and flying the coop at an early age for adventure and, eventually, a mixture of serious highs and crushing lows. Sindibad is a tall, bearded guy, easygoing and a bit bemused as he looks back through the gauze of time. The production, directed by Jeanne Calvit, resolutely refuses to take itself seriously. It employs performers both disabled and non-disabled, and in one big knock-'em-dead musical number features a mass of dancers and yuks supplied from old Laugh-In gags, which must have been intolerably stale even in their own time, and which are dusted off out of sheer silliness. Sindibad receives periodic messages from a ghostly Native American grandfather (the voice of Arlo Omaha), including, in the early going, the word that "the time of the lone wolf is over." Though Sindibad's journey might have been lonely at times, he unreels interludes of great connection: civil rights marches, turning on and tuning in, getting in touch with his native heritage, and, with a bit of visual poetry, adopting the practice of Sufi spinning. Along the way, though, we also hear of madness, addiction, lawlessness, and a general sense of the hounds of chaos howling on the borderlands. Sindibad is as much an experience as a theatrical exercise, and our protagonist isn't a particularly exceptional or penetrating autobiographer. But what he brings is presence and a sense of wistful contentment in looking back on times that are, for him, both vivid and filled with a desperate unease. Sometimes the lack of a glorious breakthrough moment is a story in and of itself.