Maybe It’s Cold Outside (1991)

Story, choreography and direction by John Kelly
Music: Johann Sebastian Bach, Vincenzo Bellini, Edward Elgar, Arvo Part, Igor Stravinsky
Set Design: Huck Snyder
Film Sequences: Anthony Chase
Lighting Design: Stan Pressner
Costume Design: Katherine Maurer
Wigs: Danilo
Costume Mistress: Hebe Joy
Piano: Vivian Trimble
Produced by Liz Dunn for John Kelly & Company
Premiere: The Kitchen, New York, February 14, 1991

WITH: Kyle de Camp (Rage); John Kelly (Forge); Marleen Menard (Sympathy); Byron Suber (Tally); and Vivian Trimble (Tea).  Cast Shadows: Scott Pask and Scott Sensenig

Mel Gussow, Sleepwalking Through A Too Brief Childhood, The New York Times, February 19, 1991

With its gigantic watch faces and other oversized objects, Huck Snyder’s evocative scenery for Maybe It’s Cold Outside looks like a companion landscape to that in Maurice Sendak’s storybook In the Night Kitchen. The stage setting for this show (written, directed and choreographed by John Kelly, in collaboration with his company) soon becomes a field for the play of Mr. Kelly’s imagination, as the audience is transported into a world of shadowy mood and memory. At the heart of the talismanic performance piece (at the Kitchen) are Mr. Kelly’s reflections about growing up, about the pleasures and problems — and the brevity — of childhood.

The scene opens in an elementary schoolroom where the actors, dressed in uniforms, squirm in their seats. With a clownish agility, they compete for attention and positions of priority. They also pursue their feelings of sexuality. Then the students hopscotch to a higher grade to study French. What follows is a mischievous dance for dunces, a fantasia in which the director demonstrates his quirky sense of comedy.

In the middle of the show, the performers (a harmonious cast of five headed by Mr. Kelly himself) are glimpsed in outline behind individual screens preparing themselves for a night’s slumber. Soon they are swept into a dream within the dream play, culminated by Mr. Kelly’s emergence to sing an aria from La Sonnambula by Bellini. His rapturous falsetto lifts the music into the already etherized atmosphere.

Sleepwalking is endemic to Mr. Kelly’s directorial vision. One of his earlier pieces was Diary of a Somnambulist. There is something trancelike — and entrancing — about Mr. Kelly’s theater, in which he asks the audience to embark with him on an elliptical journey to an unsettling destination. As is his style, he melds various performance arts into a media melange. In this case, there is a short film by Anthony Chase as well as an accompanying chamber concert of music played on the cello by Tomas Ulrich.

Maybe It’s Cold Outside is an open-ended anthology, in contrast to other fully structured Kelly pieces, like Pass the Blutwurst, Bitte (his musings on the life of Egon Schiele) and Find My Way Home (in which he used novel forms to retell the Orpheus myth). The new show’s episodic, improvisatory nature will allow the director to expand or to distill it further.

Beneath the offbeat comedy there is an underlying seriousness, formally asserted toward the close of the show. Hooded stagehands who have been silently moving the scenery are suddenly caught up in the action. They fall to the ground like projectiles. At the same time on the screen are seen iconographic indications of numerous fatalities. Death has entered Mr. Kelly’s dominion, as the beguiling innocence of youth is replaced by an adult melancholy. At its end, the play begins to explore the coldness beyond the door of the play room.

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