I’m told the world-premiere comedy Hard Cell by Brent Askari is a difficult show to write about while avoiding spoilers. Well, rest assured that based on what I can hear from my little station around the corner from the rehearsal hall, I still have no idea what is going on.
For those who don’t know, Askari’s play is the story of a college professor of MENASA (which stands for Middle-Eastern, North African, South Asian) heritage breaking down in a small town and running into trouble with the community’s somewhat zany residents. Even armed with this synopsis, I find that the symphony of howls, shrieks, moans, and screams I have been treated to daily have done little to elucidate the plot of this new work any further. While at first these noises were amusing and even distracting, in the past week they became all but routine. In fact, now that the cast is in tech rehearsal downstairs in the Wilson stage, I’m finding the silence mildly unnerving.
In an effort to provide a sneak peak of this madcap new play while remaining mysterious in my description, I’ve ultimately selected a few vocabulary words and their definitions to help shed an intriguing amount of light on the fascinating sounds and human vocalizations that seem to play a role in Hard Cell.
Keening– n. “the act of making a loud, long, eerie wailing sound, usually in sadness.” Now, I know that the show is uproariously funny because I can hear the creative team laughing all throughout rehearsals, but one wouldn’t know it to hear some of the sounds coming from these actors. I find myself wanting to ask “who died?” in response to moments of otherwise complete silence pierced by a single wailing and groaning voice.
Ululation– n. “a long, wavering, high-pitched vocal sound resembling a howl with a trilling quality.” I don’t want to give too much away by diving into specifics, but if you were to hear this sound, you would probably recognize it from one or more contexts. Some cultures use it as an act of celebration, others as an expression of grief, others as a sign of religious fervor or ecstasy. Based on the ululations I have heard so far, I have questions. I hope you do too and that your burning questions drive you to buy a ticket!
Discordance– n. “a mingling of sounds that strike the ear harshly.” Here is one point in the post where I could let slip a slight spoiler, but shall refrain. I have a guess as to what device causes these loud and tinny distortions of characters’ voices at various points in the show, but just as I will have to wait and see if my hunch is correct, you will have to wait and see what I’m talking about. The mystery deepens.
Thwomp– n. “the dull sound of something landing heavily, or of something being struck forcefully.” Perhaps not exactly an SAT word, but I have found it in at least one dictionary. This one I feel confident you can imagine without much help. What I can’t imagine is what might be causing the thwomps in Hard Cell.
Vocabulary lessons aside, two things that I have overheard from the desk that I feel I can guarantee you in your viewing experience are 1) laughter and 2) the surprising usage of some great music. Hard Cell may tackle some difficult topics such as prejudice, but every moment in this script has been crafted to deliver an uproariously good time while at the same time raising some important questions. From the sounds of it, the show is truly over-the-top from its characters down to its sound design. I expect it will not only be a great deal of wacky fun, but will also use its far-fetched satirical tone to hold a mirror up to our society in eye-opening and heartwarming ways. Just as sometimes laughter is the best medicine, it can also be a great teacher.
I’m not sure what kind of medicine keening is, though…