Wednesday, May 16, 2018

SIFA 2018 :: ‘Parable of the Sower’

I had earlier bookmarked SIFA’s program of musician Toshi Reagon and her mother Dr Bernice Johnson Reagon’s musical adaption of Octavia E. Butler’s 1993 dystopian novel, ‘Parable of the Sower’. Glad I made it to the show. Although I’m no fan of musicals, I decided to keep an open mind with this one because it’s supposed to be adapted from a sci-fi novel (that I like). The musical has seen an incredible amount of support and has come a long way since its Kickstarter days.

Written in the 90s for an imagined future in the 2020s, the acclaimed author (who passed away in 2006 at 58 years old) had no idea how close she is to the reality in 2018. Alongside many other great writers, her stories formed part of my lifelong fondness for sci-fi and dystopian novels. As a teenager, I wondered loads about esoteric Earthseed communities in the Parable series. A pity there isn’t a third book for Earthseed stories. Her last work which began as a third book for Parable ultimately became a separate vampire story, ‘Fledgling’ (2005). 

Directed by artistic director of the California Shakespeare Theatre, Eric Ting, this SIFA highlight is produced by curator and theatre practitioner Wang Meiyin, who has moved from Singapore to New York City and is now based in the Bay area. In an interview with Jeremy D. Goodwin published in The New York Times on January 1 2018 titled ‘A Prescient Sci-Fi ‘Parable’ Gets Set to Music’, Toshi Reagon said,

“It’s not that Octavia predicted him,” the musician Toshi Reagon says of a current-day politician who, you may have heard, rode the same slogan to the White House. “It’s that she knew us so well and knew we would allow it to happen. That’s chilling. It gives me bumps on my arms.”

The musical is billed as ‘a rock opera’. Various reviews described it as a cross between an opera and a rock concert. Well, I think it’s neither. It’s exactly a musical. African-American music features deeply through gospel, soul, funk, blues and ermm some sort of EDM. The live band, vocalists and Toshi Reagon were such a joy to listen to. (Reviews of the show in other cities here and here.)

It could have been shortened to 90 minutes instead of its two hours without an intermission, which was, imho, a bit lengthy. Oddly, the sound was unbalanced at Victoria Theatre that night, muffling a fair bit of vocals. Otherwise it was a surprisingly unboring musical that I rather appreciated for its alternative and very-LA vibes. Kudos to SIFA for bringing in this show.

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