Pin It

Sacrament of Solipsism 

click to enlarge An Elliott Smith set list. “The Elliot Smith Project” comes to Bard’s Spiegeltent July 26.
  • An Elliott Smith set list. “The Elliot Smith Project” comes to Bard’s Spiegeltent July 26.

 

 

Singer-songwriter Elliot Smith made solipsism a sacrament, singing of loneliness and detachment in an unforgiving world. Uncompromising in his darkness, he found legions of disaffected fans and, unexpectedly, a 1998 Oscar nomination for “Miss Misery” in Gus Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting. The bittersweet taste of fame only hastened Smith’s unraveling. Taking a leaf from Kurt Cobain’s book, Smith nosedived into depression, heroin addiction, and, in a shrewd career move, a 2003 suicide at age 34.

Director Daniel Fish was not a hollow-eyed Smith acolyte; but when he happened upon Smith’s posthumous CD, From a Basement on the Hill, three years ago, “it blew me away,” he said. Touched by the despair of the lyrics, Fish also recognized a rueful wit behind them. At the time, Fish was mounting a production of “Hamlet” at the McCarter Theater in New Jersey, and Smith’s album provided company as Fish explored Shakespeare’s mopey Dane. After the engagement ended, the music continued to tease at his mind. “The search that Smith expresses on that record really spoke to me,” said Fish.

This summer, Fish has created a theater piece for the Spiegeltent, the outdoor cabaret at Bard’s SummerScape. Calling it “The Elliott Smith Project” (an earlier tag, “Speaking in Clowns” was discarded), Fish warns Elliottheads, “This is not a biographical piece about Smith; it’s not about his life and not about his death.” Henry Stram and Teresa McCarthy will sing the music from Basement while backed by a three-piece band.

Restless in his creativity, the guilelessly cerebral Daniel Fish is an ideal midwife for a reimagining of the Smith canon. Fish has already distinguished himself as a director at Bard. His 2005 revival of Clifford Odets’s “Rocket to the Moon” emphasized the everyman operatics of a dentist and his unfulfilled dreams. In March, Fish deconstructed the classic “Oklahoma!” at Bard. Handheld video cameras televised close-ups on monitors scattered around the stage. Actors served the audience chili at intermission. Most audacious was the suggestion that the true romance was not between cowpoke Curly and spunky Laurey but Curly and the melancholic Jud Fry.

Composer Polly Pen, who worked on Fish’s “Hamlet” and his Julliard staging of “Twelfth Night,” acknowledged the director’s fearlessness. “He’s brave in the way that anyone looking for the truth is brave. He tears things apart.”

Fish began work on “The Project” last October, deciphering the text of Smith’s lyrics, which often were inaudible. He moved forward with purpose only this past March, after Smith’s family gave their approval. Reflecting this mercurial director’s creative process, the specifics of the show remain in flux. “I am creating my own narrative and it’s different all the time.” Fish is no autocrat during rehearsals. “I really try to respond very much to what’s happening in the present in the room. [It’s about] letting accidents happen; accidents play a pretty big role in the evolution of the piece.”

“The Elliott Smith Project” opens on July 26 at the Spiegeltent, part of Bard College’s SummerScape. Additional performances July 28 and 29, August 3-5. $25. (845) 758-7900; www.summerscape.bard.edu

Speaking of...

  • New DVD Chronicles Peter, Paul and Mary
  • New DVD Chronicles Peter, Paul and Mary

    The iconic folk trio is the subject of a recently released documentary.
    • Jan 12, 2017
  • Rich Conaty (1954-2016)
  • Rich Conaty (1954-2016)

    The Hudson resident and host of radio's "The Big Broadcast" died last Friday.
    • Jan 3, 2017
  • Turning the Turntables
  • Turning the Turntables

    This month, we once again ring in the new year with a specially selected panel of Hudson Valley music mavens, who run down their top releases of 2016 and talk current crushes and future faves along the way.
    • Jan 1, 2017
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

  • CD Review: Tani Tabbal

    • Sep 1, 2015
  • CD Review: Zs' "XE"

    Higgins and current fellow Zs Sam Hillmer (sax and pedals) and Greg Fox (percussion and electronics) are nothing short of poets of noise. Even in the most assaultive moments on Zs' new record, XE, a sense of delicacy, separation, and emotive purpose prevails.
    • Aug 1, 2015

Hudson Valley Events

submit event

Latest in Music

  • Art of Business: Bardavon
  • Art of Business: Bardavon

    See a show at the Bardavon this season. You won't be disappointed.
    • Jan 1, 2017
  • Turning the Turntables
  • Turning the Turntables

    This month, we once again ring in the new year with a specially selected panel of Hudson Valley music mavens, who run down their top releases of 2016 and talk current crushes and future faves along the way.
    • Jan 1, 2017
  • Nightlife Highlights: Kris Kristofferson
  • Nightlife Highlights: Kris Kristofferson

    Handpicked by music editor Peter Aaron for your listening pleasure.
    • Jan 1, 2017
  • More »

Related to Music

  • Opera in Phoenicia Park
  • Opera in Phoenicia Park

    With its open-air format, where attendees picnic in the parks and watch the stars emerge during performances, and its $5 youth tickets, the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice is the perfect place to share with children a love of music and theater, in a variety of styles.
    • Jul 25, 2016
  • More »

More by Jay Blotcher

Hudson Valley Tweets