Smokestack Arias

“Smokestack Arias” composed by Wayne Horvitz with libretto by Robin Holcomb, opened at ACT theatre on Thursday night, February 2nd.  (Groundhog Day)  The one hour production with music and song commemorated the Everett Massacre, when two policemen and five Seattle members of the IWW ( Industrial Workers of the World, or Wobblies) were killed, during a free-speech demonstration in support of striking shingle mill workers in Everett, WA.    Although 74 Wobblies were arrested and their leader Thomas H. Tracy was charged with murder, they were all acquitted.  The music was very modern and played by pianist Christina Valdes, the singing was performed solo by Maria Mannisto, a Finnish-American opera singer.   The producer was The Central Heating Lab in collaboration with Jack Straw Productions. 

      Although it was short, only one hour, the production dragged because it never actually told the story, nor was there any drama, neither in the individual songs nor in the production itself, just one mournful song after another with very boring repetitive melodies, and uninspired lyrics.  It was only after the show, upon reading the notice on the internet, that I discovered that the singer supposedly had portrayed a different woman with each song.   Mannisto did not vocally or physically differentiate the characters at all,  and there were no physical cues i.e. she stayed in the same costume. 

             In the beginning of the last century there was great hope and lots of conflict associated with the labor movement; no one goes to a demo hoping to die, they hope to advance their cause and make their lives better, yet none of this came through.  Also the lyrics had some peculiar phrases and metaphors which seemed like bad but repetitive poetry.  The lyrics of the first few songs were written in present tenses to recount a past event which I found very jarring.  There was nothing to hook the audience in and no suspense. It was very like the movie Groundhog Day, where the lead character keeps repeating the same day over and over again, except that “Smokestack Arias”, had no psychic movement, so it never got out of the rut.

            It is a shame, because it sounded like a subject which was well suited to a dramatic rendition, but good intentions are not enough. 


“Smokestack Arias”, by Wayne Horvitz and Robin Holcomb, The Central Heating Lab, In Collaboration with Jack Straw Productions.  ACT Theatre Feb. 2-12.  700 Union St.  Downtown Seattle,  ( Parking in the Convention Center)

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