Ryan Sparks

Runnin' Down the Mountain: The House Party

Ryan Sparks


I missed Runnin’ Down the Mountain, the soundscape-centered performance based on Appalachian music and field recordings by the New Noise theater ensemble, when it premiered back in January.  After a summer tour through parts of North Carolina and beyond, New Noise brought an excerpted version of the play to Fringe, playing on a backyard stage deep in the Bywater.  

The framework of the story is simple: Everrett and Margaret Riddle are siblings left abandoned on their family’s small farm in the mountains of North Carolina.  Each of them are partial to one of their departed parents: Everrett chases after his dead mother’s voice on unspooled cassette tape.  Margaret compulsively reads about far off cities and towns where their truck-driving dad might be passing through.  

Both character’s distrust of the family narrative and their spite towards each other’s favorite parent provide the conflict necessary in any production.  However, in this excerpted version of the play without a clear resolution the audience was left to their own prejudices to decide which one is the true protagonist.  There might not be one.  Like Everrett says in a monologue about musical recordings, there’s an A side and a B side.  On a cassette, the sound lives on both sides of the same tape.  The alternate choice, to view both as mutual antagonists, stirs up more pity than sympathy since the characters seem trapped in their motivations and there is no outside force to set them free.

This dramatic relationship is merely the frame upon which some more experimental theater exercises can be performed.  One stirring passage shows a succession of nightly dinner conversations between the Riddles in which they use their cutlery and plates to play out rhythms while the live band--fiddle, guitar, and digital effects--provides tense music.  There are also some straightforward Appalachian gospel/bluegrass-inspired original songs performed by the entire ensemble that are beautiful.

I found myself very caught up in the imposed duality: brother/sister, A side/B side, excerpt/full production, even the two halves of the format where experimental theater dissolved into a friendly backyard party with porch music and warm cider.  I enjoyed the full experience, but left with an longing for one side--any of them--to dominate the other and provided some resolution.  If New Noise brings a full production of Runnin’ Down the Mountain back, I’ll be buying a ticket.  For the time being, like the Riddles, all I have is a memory without certainty.  

Go to our dedicated New Orleans Fringe Festival page for feature previews and reviews.