Saturday, April 9, 2011

Randy Rutherford "Singing at the Edge of the World": ☼ ☼

Randy Rutherford's autobiographical one-man show "Singing at the Edge of the World" is strong when it is heartbreaking. One feels empathy with the singer/guitar player who lost his hearing mid-career, in his early thirties; sadness when he reunites with his old girl friend, Molly; and even a little self-understanding when Rutherford quotes Helen Keller: "A blind person loses connection to things, but a deaf person loses connection to people." That'll make you count your blessings.

As a story of one man's triumph over a musician's nightmare, you have to love Randy Rutherford. But as a play: not so much. The lead character is passive to the point of inaction and his whininess makes us wonder why either he or his girl deserve ten minutes of our attention. He's depressed, she's a ditz.

A beautiful ditz, to be sure, we are told...and he was once a fine guitar player and singer too, we are also told. But we can't see Molly and the music that Rutherford performs, though commendable, sounds like it is coming from someone who is relying on digital hearing aids.

Within that framework he is astonishing, really, but what feels more astonishing is how they have chosen to focus almost the entire show on the doomed love affair, which had no chance from the moment Randy met Molly, and not on the agony and details of the singer's loss of hearing and how it has affected his subsequent career as an artist, or on the nuts and bolts of trying to sing when you cannot hear yourself clearly. This feels like a David Ford (director) decision but perhaps it is the author's wish. Either way, it's a little hard to fathom. It may be what that raven is whispering in his ear.

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Singing at the Edge of the World" Two Stars. We'd love to hear Randy Rutherford tell us his interesting story over an elk burger and a six pack at the Fancy Moose in Anchorage, without the constrictions of trying to fit it into scenes and light cues, which don't really work. We get the feeling that if they let this man just talk he could blow us away. Perhaps that will happen down the line.

Randy Rutherford: "Singing at the Edge of the World"
2120 Allston Way, Berkeley
Through April 16

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