Out of Step With Stomp

A flyer for the internationally known Stomp.

A flyer for the internationally known Stomp.

MiMi Yeh

When I first heard about the percussive gyrations that I now know as “Stomp” it was described to me by a friend as a “B-list version of Blue Man Group.” In retrospect, I think he was being overly generous. Billed as “exploring the use of rhythm in every day life,” their performance was anything but versatile. When they weren’t slapping their own bodies, they were raising swirling clouds of sawdust.

Stomp has received an Obie and a Drama Desk Award. It has been in Boston at the Stuart Street Playhouse since February of 2003, directed and created by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas. Originating as a street performance in the United Kingdom, it has achieved something close to an international following.

Blue Man Group incorporates elements of both “musical slapstick” and theatre in their show while Stomp relies heavily on the speediness of their rhythmic repertoire. It’s impressive for the first 10 minutes, watching them coordinate varying beats using only push brooms and their own feet. It builds and builds getting more complicated as time passes. However, it never fulfills the accumulated expectations. Instead, they move on to tapping on matchsticks, kitchen sinks, and the ultimate killer, metal garbage cans. Try listening for a half hour and you’ll come away with a whopping headache and partially deaf.

I won’t deny their talent at pounding out their pulse at a rate that is almost superhuman. There is also a certain amount of ingenuity involved in their choice of instruments, like water in tin cans and scraping their boots against the wet sawdust previously mentioned. Yet, that’s about all there really is to the show. I laughed at certain points but overall, I found myself scratching my head as to why anyone would pay $50 for a ticket when you could see the same style of percussion, albeit on a smaller scale, in the Park Street subway station or walking back from Fenway after a game.

The problem was not their creativity but keeping the audience’s interest with the repetitive and occasionally monotonous thumping. There was participation involving audience’s rhythmic responses when they were encouraged to synchronously copy the clapping movements of one of the performers. It briefly roused them from their lethargy when the actor stood there smiling and frowning at different points depending on whether someone lagged or missed a beat.

The Thursday, September 25, 2003 performance seemed sloppy at certain moments. I noticed one of the performers surreptitiously hanging towards the back of the stage, watching the feet of the others to see where and how he should move, always a little off the beat. Yet, that one weak link was not enough to dampen the energy of the overall performance. Dressed like a crew of housepainters, the players each took a turn in the spotlight showing off some funny little trick or percussive variation involving yet another body part.

Unless you’re a drummer, I wouldn’t bother spending $100 on this particular evening for two. If you do plan on going, bring some Tylenol and ear plugs. For ticket and show times, visit stomponline.com or call (800) 447-7400 to find out about prices and availability.