Shimmer and Herringbone – A Whirlwind Hoot

“The clothes we choose to wear — and how we choose to wear them — send out messages that reveal many aspects of personality and emotional health. A number of leading psychiatrists and psychologists talk about the ways that clothes may be considered keys to the psyche.” Nancy Beach The New York Times 1976

Lizzie Olesker (Lilly), Ebony Davis (Bree), Tina Shepard (Melanie)

Four panels show people (on video) at home, trying on and evaluating clothing and their bodies. I’d conjecture there’s not an audience member who doesn’t recognize herself/himself. Melanie (Tina Shepard) has fallen face down in front of the clothing store Shimmer and Herringbone, an axis for the story. Lilly (Lizzie Olesker), a nerdy ornithologist who specializes in pigeons, and her daughter Bree (Ebony Davis), help the grouchy woman up. Melanie says she was climbing a wall, reaching out to touch the moon when she lost her balance.

Always extraordinarily imaginative, Talking Band writers Ellen Maddow and Paul Zimet mix the nature of relationships with a trope of clothing, i.e. choices that personify us to create a hellzpoppin play kind of about appearance. The four set panels (by Anna Kiraly) revolve to allow maximum farce. Apparel – most often vintage – is predominantly awful, flamboyant, and fun. (Costumes by Olivera Gajic.)

Tina Shepard (Melanie), Jack Wetherall (Colin), Lizzie Olesker (Lilly)

At Herringbone, the friendly saleslady (Ellen Maddow) services and chats. “I don’t know you, so I can give you an honest opinion. It’s my face I see in the morning.” All of the characters patronize the shop regularly. Melanie first comes for funeral attire but chooses a fuchsia blouse. “A bold choice,” the saleswoman comments. Lilly returns her first purchase because “I was imagining someone unlike me when I thought it looked good.” ‘Sound familiar?

When she encounters former best friend Grace, a sophisticated real estate agent (Louise Smith), the latter literally runs from Lilly. This happens repeatedly. Grace falls (ah, fear of falling, omnipresent after a certain age) and is aided by passing Colin (Jack Wetherall- grand to see him on stage again), recognized for playing the doctor on a popular soap. Having evolved past his apartment – “It’s like my skin is too small” – the actor is looking for a change. As it happens, Grace represents one in the building where the store is located. He admires her hat. She gifts him with it. Kismet.

James Tigger! Ferguson (Gus), Louise Smith (Grace), Lizzie Olesker (Lilly)

Gus (James Tigger! Ferguson, yes he has talent for more than burlesque) shops for yet another plaid shirt. On the street, he enthusiastically greets Lilly, who initially has no recollection of him and is uncomfortable. It turns out they knew one another during the same period that established Grace as her bestie. Further drawing characters into a rondo, Gus has just inherited the building that hosts the store and Colin’s new home. Bree engages Melanie in a fashion enterprise.

A magic storage room is discovered. Enlarged projections of pigeons (Anna Kiraly) sometimes fill the background. People connect in old and new ways. Garments are sampled and shed. Recollections of past clothing tie to mood and event. “I had this skin tight terrycloth jumpsuit; it made me feel so free,” Colin wistfully recollects. Bree is shocked when Lilly buys leopard print. Fashion personas change radically. Characters become more themselves.

James Tigger! Ferguson (Gus), Jack Wetherall (Colin)

Acting is wonderful; personas artfully detailed. Watching the faces is in itself a pleasure.
Direction (Paul Zimet) masters both the freewheeling and emotionally grounded.  A surreal tale filled with resonant characters must be helmed with a deft hand, tape and strings hidden from audience. Zimet knows how to do this in spades.

Ellen Maddow’s music is just right for the piece, unobtrusive, charming, fitting.
String Trio: Rachel Feldhaus, Marija Kovacevic, Augustin Uriburu.

Talking Band is celebrating its 50th Anniversary. Founded by Ellen Maddow, Tina Shepard, and Paul Zimet, it’s interdisciplinary performance work has been a cornerstone of New York City’s avant-garde theater community. I try not to miss a production.

Photos by Maria Baranova

Talking Band in Association with Mabou Mines presents
Shimmer and Herringbone
Written by Ellen Maddow and Paul Zimet in collaboration with Olivera Gajic
Directed by Paul Zimet
Sean Donovan-Choreographer

Mabou Mines  
150 First Avenue at 9th Street Second floor
Through May 19, 2024

About Alix Cohen (1787 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of ten New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, TheaterLife, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.