The meaning shines through Theater: A cappella group Hot Mouth mixes music and storytelling with dramatic effect.

January 13, 1998|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,SUN STAFF

To watch a performance of the a cappella group Hot Mouth is to feel sometimes as if you have parachuted into foreign territory. You attempt to understand the conversation, although the words are mostly unfamiliar. Still, there is communication going on. You know what they mean, even if you don't always know what they are saying.

And so it is that Hot Mouth's act is appropriately called "You Say What I Mean but What You Mean Is Not What I Said." It's a title that makes you go "Hmmmm." And so does the act.

You can see the group at Center Stage on Thursday at 8 p.m., Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 9: 30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.

The New York-based performers defy easy labeling, but they are an a cappella singing group. Yet they also incorporate drama and storytelling into their performances. Yes, they sing songs that are recognizable. But they also use sounds that imitate instruments, that sound like tongue-clicking, chanting or a combination of all three.

Best to leave it to their creator to describe the group.

"It is a mix between walking through a museum or an art gallery and of being at a Baptist revival," says Grisha Coleman, who also performs. "It's a live performance experience, but it is not like a music video."

Hmmmm.

The 32-year-old performer uses the word "energy" a lot when describing the group's work.

"There is a kinesthetic exchange, an energy exchange. We are telling a story, like painting a picture, and there is this energy moving between us and the audience," she says.

The group will be a part of Center Stage's "Off Center" festival, a perfect venue for this type of act, says Jill Rachel Morris, the Off Center series' curator.

"It is a head-on collision between real life and pure theater," Morris says about all of the acts performing for the festival, which runs from Thursday through Jan. 25.

This is the fifth season for Off Center, Morris says. But this is the first time the festival will be compacted into one time period.

"In the past, we have brought in people interspersed throughout the regular season," Morris says. "We did it that way to accommodate their schedules. But we had always kind of batted about the idea of a festival.

"I am so pleased that we got all of the people we wanted. The idea is to concentrate all of the energy and, hopefully, blow out the walls."

The focus is on performances that are appropriate for the theater, she says. "And 'Hot Mouth' is movement poetry, cabaret, a cappella and emotional narrative."

The multicultural quartet gives a performance that will take the audience to church with a soul-stirring "service." There is also a hilarious take on eating watermelon and fried chicken and the stereotypical implications that can represent. The acts are political, without hitting audiences over the head with it.

"We are political," Coleman agrees. "But the politics are covert."

Sometimes the music and the words will be recognizable; other times they will not. "We are speaking and telling a story," Coleman says. "Like painting a picture. There are words in it, and there are non-words. Or, I should say, created words."

'Off Center'

What: performance art festival

Where: Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St.

When: Thursday through Jan. 25 (no performance on the Rev. Martin Luther King's birthday, Jan. 19)

Tickets: Three events are $45. Six shows are $72. Hot Mouth is $22; subscribers pay $20 for Hot Mouth and students pay $18. The rest of the shows are $20; subscribers pay $18 and students pay $15. Tickets can be purchased at the door.

Call: 410-332-0033

The rest of the schedule

Other acts performing in the Off Center festival at Center Stage are:

Eve Ensler. Her one-woman show has been called outrageous and controversial. Its title is "The Vagina Monologues" and was developed through interviews with more than 200 women. Ensler performs Friday at 9: 30 p.m., Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 7: 30 p.m.

Danny Hoch. His performance, "Jails, Hospitals & Hip Hop," explores why a young, Jewish man from Brooklyn finds himself drawn to the African/Latino/American music culture of hip-hop. Hoch appears at 8 p.m. Jan. 20-22.

Ntozake Shange. The author of "for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf" performs "Quasar Looming," a duet featuring her poetry and the accompaniment of one musician. Shange performs at 8 p.m. Jan. 23.A Poe-themed poetry slam follows; it's free if you have Shange tickets or costs $3 at the door.

Roger Guenveur Smith. He performs "A Huey P. Newton Story," a biographical tour de force on the life and death of the Black Panther Party founder. Smith performs at 2 p.m. and 9: 30 p.m. Jan. 24 and at 7: 30 p.m. Jan. 25.

Dael Orlandersmith. She presents her monologues "Beauty's Daughter" and "Monster," about prejudice, relationships and life as an African-American woman in the late 20th century. Orlandersmith performs at 7 p.m. Jan. 24 and at 3 p.m. Jan. 25.

Pub Date: 1/13/98

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