Drinking with Aristotle in “Ipsa Dixit”

Presented by Original Gravity Concert Series
Music & Libretto by Kate Soper
Performed by Equilibrium
Soprano: Stephanie Lamprea,
Violin & Acting Music Director: Nicole Parks
Flute: Orlando Cela
Percussion: Mike Williams

April 12th at 7:30pm
Inner Space
17 Station Street
Brookline, MA, 02445
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Review by Gillian Daniels

(Brookline, MA) Ipsa Dixit is Art with a capital, “AH,” an often playful and highly erudite experiment with language and music chiefly meant for people who are already into That Kind of Thing. As a whole, it doesn’t have a clear entrypoint for laymen. This is, at least partially, about the meaning of words vs. the intent of the isolated mind that created them, ie. the vast chasm between expressing something verbally and the isolated brain meat where that verbiage was formed. So yes, it certainly falls into the category of My Thing, with its mosaic of words excerpted from the works of Aristotle, Sophocles, Freud, and Lydia Davis, among others. The music layered on top of these various texts construct an impressionistic portrait of what that language feels like. If you have ever found yourself hungry for a tense drama about a diagrammed sentence, this show is for you. During its two intermissions, there were people who bounced so solidly off the text, they ended up bouncing themselves. Otherwise, others stuck it out for the impressive oddity of Soper’s work as well as the free drinks provided by participating breweries.

Stephanie Lamprea’s vibrant soprano and vulnerable interpretation of the text kicked the show into its best moments. She was accompanied by the playful antics of Orlando Cela on flute and Nicole Parks on violin. Mike Williams was on percussion, but, I think, deserves the title of unofficial foley artist in the show’s more metatextual moments.

My chief complaint regarding the venue of the yoga studio, Inner Space, is that the heating system provided its own percussion. What a (loud) team player.

Soper’s Ipsa Dixit, when it’s playful, reminds me of being a small child, when I tried to map the meanings of individual words with pictures. Examples: the word, “Saturday,” was a spindly, corkscrew curve in a roller coaster and “Sunday” was the wide stretch of track before the roller coaster reaches where it began. As a note, this is how pretentious critics are cultivated, children with too much free time and an interest in trying to literalize abstract concepts. Similarly, Kate Soper has a gift for grafting sound onto the abstract, turning a dialogue between Socrates and Crito into the tangled web of an opera.

It’s fun when the show embraces the intrinsic humor of itself as an experience. The first couple acts, Poetics (paired with Exhibit A’s Danko, a double dry hopped IPA) and Only the Words Themselves Mean What They Say (paired with a wheat beer, Bone Up’s Oink) set a mood that is silly and academic with a slice of the basic pop song relatability of a couple having a fight. And I’m a sucker for just that juxtaposition of High and Low Art, loosely defined as those things are. Two scenes folded into “Only the Words Themselves Mean What They Say,” “i. Go Away” and “ii. Head, Heart,” seem to be pairing Aristotle’s wisdom on dramatic theater with an unfolding melodrama between a couple. But that plot line, light as it is, is dropped by Kate Soper in favor of continuing to build a show out of the words of ghosts.

So, after a promising start, in the last two-thirds of the show, I began to feel lost in the weeds. I became much more involved with the “multi-sensory” experience that was True North’s Toulouse (brought out during Act VI, Cipher) Allagash Brewing Company’s ale, Darling Ruby (Act III, Rhetoric) which somehow makes a hint of grapefruit juice actually taste good.

Ipsa Dixit is a disassembled set of elements where the strongest tether seems to be between the music and the text it interprets. Individual words and sounds result in highly personal moments of resonance. But between these moments, the connective tissue across the show is thin. In seeking to be about the universal qualities of language, the resulting piece becomes as  difficult to bridge as the gap between an isolated monkey brain and the words it tries to turn into something meaningful.

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