“IT RAISES SOME THOUGHT-PROVOKING POINTS ON THE NATURE OF FAMILIES AND THE TALES THEY HARBOUR.”
As the audience enters, a young man with a magnificent beard is asking the violinist on stage with him if she knows “the one about…” several times. She always says yes, and then plays a brief tune. I realized after I settled that all the requests feature a man called Rover Joe involved in numerous exploits or unlikely situations. The tunes the violinist played were always brief, but oddly fitted the description the young man gave.
The performers introduce themselves. Initially, I thought they were characters but realized quickly this wasn’t the case. J. Fergus Evans is gay, Irish-American and has a bundle of family stories that may be true, or may not. Rhiannon Armstrong is a folk musician with a family history of song collection. They briefly explain why their names were chosen for them, which sets the tone for the rest of the evening. Family stories are the focus, but they are told from the heart of the individuals rather than from behind the mask of characters. This comes across as informal and conversational, particularly as Evans and Armstrong engage directly with the audience. It feels more like a cabaret or comedy set up, intimate and with an element of improvisation.
The structure of the performance is relaxed and loose. The subject of the story is a man called Rover Joe, Evans’ grandfather who emigrated from Ireland to Chicago. His tale is told in four sections, in between music, and talking to the audience about the importance of stories, their families, and so on. They also explain their artistic process, which in my opinion did not contribute to the performance and could be cut in order to focus more on the storytelling. Arguably, the performance could focus solely on the Rover Joe stories. My initial instinct is to say that this is a show in its very early stages of development, or seems like it should be. On the other hand, the event as it was held a certain amount of quaint charm, like a folk song.
Armstrong’s music is excellent, as is Evans’ storytelling; though opening his eyes whilst giving us the tales would create more of a connection with the audience. The whole show is only an hour, but feels longer due to its fragmentary nature. Rover Joe’s story is complete, but I wanted to know more about him and his family. Perhaps this is sentimental on my part as I am Irish-American as well, and understand the desire Americans feel to identify with a homeland. Other audience members may not have the same level of emotional engagement in the show. The pace was slow at times due to the conversational elements and could have been streamlined, but the Rover Joe stories are the highlight of the evening.
This is certainly a unique performance: sentimental, quaint and emotionally honest. It raises some thought-provoking points on the nature of families and the tales they harbour. This is certainly a production to see for those interested in storytelling, folk music and folk tales, and quirky performances that don’t easily fit into a genre.