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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

Kids: from the life and works of Patti Smith

Or: Tender Rock, Intimate Roll

“Do you believe in soul mates?”

I looked down into the earnest eyes of Maddie Weinstein, crouched before me, smiling timorously. What a question is that to ask a person. If someone came up and asked you on the street, or even over lunch in a coffee shop you might dodge behind your mental barriers and cry, “La! What pitiful stuff!” and snort derisively. At least I would. But so serious was the question proffered, and so much had Weinstein and her fellow Wave company members offered up during the show thus far, that I leaned down, gave a timorous smile of my own, and traded what little gift I could give back: an honest answer.

Directed in part by Daphne Kim and Sammy Zeisel, Kids is the staged version of Rock and Roll Poet Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids, about her life, her work, and bond to her sometime lover, all time friend Robert Mapplethorp. Yet it’s more than just a memoir, more than just a biography. It’s a season of sharing. Entering the tiny black box of the Alvina Krause Studio, the ensemble welcomed us with open arms. They sat us on the floor and drew with us, they serenaded us with the Stones and other popular works, they showed us their favorite books and poems, and asked after what ships of words carried our hearts to far horizons. Then we were shown to our seats, and were introduced to our vessel of the evening: a worn, soft paged copy, of Smith’s life knit up by a rousing dance number to “Into the Wild”, where we were undeniably headed.

There after we slipped through five acts of Love Loss and the Creation of art, with Five couples switching off between Patti and Robert, slipping on and off the mantle of her black headband and his white scarf. The ensemble was never idle, either pitching attention to the Patti’s and Robert’s of the scene, fleshing out their various lovers, mothers, and friends, or just giving their attention. But far from being caught up in their own little shared world, every soul a’stage went out of their way to make us collaborators. They entrusted us with examples of Robert’s artwork, fed us scraps of food, brought us up to dance to Patti’s music, and, between the acts, they shared stories of their own lives and asked us questions about ours.

The show was rock’n, funny, poignant, star studded and fun. It also featured a lot nudity, both of art and of artist. In so small a space, when everyone takes their shirt off, there isn’t very many places you can avert your eyes to. Still, for all the canoodling, it was done in the spirit of purity and gentleness. I feel that those particular segments would have been much more awkward to watch and execute were not everyone so close together. The good folk of Wave company really rejoice in each others company and like indulging their affection. That’s why they call this the Incest show: It’s fun for the whole family.

And what a family. If the whole ensemble worked as an affectionate, well connected team, than individually they relied upon their own talents to draw a different aspect of Patti and Robert.

In the First act, of Childhood, Dylan Pickus and Maddie Weinstein, made delightful children: full of seriousness, as children are, Pickus alive with curiosity, Weinstein struggling to conflate her personality and her position, both with dreams shining in their eyes and wafting from the corners of the smiles.

In the Second act, of Discovery, Phoebe Gonzales was a force of trembles: elation, fear, desire and distress, while Aubrey McGrath, used his trademark fire, banking and roaring, as a furnace for his affection and work.

In the Third act, of Flowering, shows us Meg Lowey taking care of her fallen friend while finding her feet as a poet, impishly seizing the lime light. Tristen Chiruvolu meanwhile transforms a pitifully ill, (he does ill really, really well, I felt myself unconsciously searching for a cloth or a pillow to assist him) to a sly smiling man, a raising star in the 70’s sky.

The Fourth act, of Triumph, has cocky John Schneidman, strutting away, forming a band, and falling in love again with Natalie C. Houchins, cock of the walk and loving it.

And the Fifth act, of Love and Loss, see Hannah Fisher come to mourn (to truly mourn, none of this hair tearing malarkey, but a deep outpouring of the soul) for Alex Benjamin, who passes over with grace, looking forward to holding G-d’s hand.

I will testify here, before you and heaven, that Patti Smith is a first rate writer and memoirist. Her memories are vivid, simple, unpitying, full of truth on growing up and becoming an artist, and graciously offered. Kim and Zeisel have ably grasped that spirit and transformed for the stage.

Their transitions between acts and aspects of the couples, their twists, their small little moments of connection, their flourishes of humor, their vocabulary of movement all speak towards a love of the work and an understanding of how an audience receives a show and how they like to be welcomed. I can lay a fault at their feet it is mixing too much together; many a time I wanted to whimper, please slow down, I can’t focus, it’s all too lovely, I need to give them my attention, it’s all I can give back, please slow, please slow.

Even now my memories of the little joys, the little surprises, the little gifts are swallowed up into the lake of my memory. Tomorrow will be another cold day, and I’ll ride around in my mental fortress, wheeling out the cannons of hauteur to anyone who dares assail my private thoughts. But down in that lake of my memory will be that friendly gaze, that genuine extension of friendship (if only for an hour) and that question, “Do you believe in soul mates”?

So I’ll dredge that lake of memory and find those little joys, little surprises and little gifts, and I’ll look down at the shade of Maddie Weinstein and say, “After the story you’ve told me, I would be a fool not to.”

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