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Inspired Insanity of the Absurd

Cangue Theater wants to surprise and delight you.

Cangue Theater wants to surprise and delight you.

By definition, a cangue is a very broad and heavy collar worn for public humiliation and corporal punishment. The term perfectly fit Gary Perrine’s musical cabaret. 
“If you are born an artist in modern society, that desire and need to express yourself sometimes feels like a punishment. You don’t receive a good living or are not perceived to have one when compared to that of a businessman. That was the original idea for Cangue League,” explains Perrine, founding father of Cangue League.
Cangue League can be split into two sections, a theatrical troupe and orchestra. Together, they are an absurdist musical theater featuring avant-garde experimental jazz. It stemmed from a rough idea Perrine had which encompassed “musicians, actors, mirror foggers, hammer swingers, and writers” creating improvisational one-acts with musicians acting as a curtain during scene changes. Perrine approached writer/percussionist Hugo Claudin and musician Mike Saunders in early 2011. By March, they had assembled an avant-garde cabaret for their first show, Flowers.
With the Arab Spring in full bloom, the topical show focused on many of Perrine’s personal pieces written prior to Cangue League’s creation and was considered a “funeral for humanity” in a positive Rapidian review. The show featured a film installation the audience was asked to color in before its presentation, and then cut apart and take home at the closing as keepsakes.
Flowers was followed by Revolutions in September. Breaking the fourth wall, Revolutions memorable highlight saw attendees joining the orchestra by swirling marbles in bowls found beneath their seats. The rhythmic percussion that beat about the room was awe-inspiring.
Cangue League resumed in March 2012 with Skwert of Blud. The show wrapped around French surrealist playwright Antonin Artaud’s one-act Jet de Sang (Jet of Blood), and included monologues by Katherine Marty and a deconstructed film by Don Mangione with a soundtrack by Saunders.
An emotionally driven piece, the theme Perrine wrote for Skwert of Blud is a four chord progression which acts as a framework “from which anything can spring,” states Perrine. Many of which “you won’t hear again,” laughs performer Kyle Colter. A similar structure is set for many other pieces, each unique and unusual.
Their last performance in November, Technicolor Yawn, paired six plays with “edible counterparts” for an original musical dinner theater experience. It included Claudin’s Atomic Bongos… Richard Feynman and the Ill Tempered Bongo, a one-act that featured the titular theoretical physicist and unconventional artist.
“As to putting on shows, Technicolor Yawn was the end of an era,” states Perrine. “There will be more structure as to how we prepare.”
Assembling such a diverse crew for each performance is stressful and rehearsal is severely limited. Often, many collaborators view performances or hear the orchestra's soundtrack for the first time during the premiere.
“We don’t tell writers what to write, we tell people to submit and we perform them. We call it a cabaret, but it isn’t necessarily. Perhaps an avant-garde variety show?” Perrin muses.
Claudin points to two keys that keep the insanity of the absurdist collective efficient. “We break into pods by grouping key members together for productive spurts due to time constraints,” explains Claudin, “and cloud computing allows me to make real time changes to scripts.” Gone are the days of sending out each revision and worrying actors receive them in time.
“We are used to not having everyone together,” Claudin continues. “We’ve become less frightened of failure. It’s impossible to bring us all together at once. We had to forget the band had to be a band. Only an accordion and guitar player can get together for this piece? Well, that’s part of the band and they would work together and devise the main music for that piece. We’re fluid.”
Aside from Perrine, Saunders, Claudin, and Colter, the current incarnation of Cangue League includes Rebecca Rodriguez, Mary Brandt, Chris Eddy, Katherine Marty, Mickey Mackenzie, Wil Lucy, Amanda Mitchell, Don Mangione, Bobbie Gilbert, Dana Schiattone, Joshua Burge, Josh Dunigan, Molly Zigler, and Sean Kenny.
This March, Cangue League will feature numerous pieces from their past four shows at the Dog Story Theater Lake Effect Fringe Festival. Billed as Want Want Lovely Play, the pieces to be performed are Victim/Criminal, Whispered Consuela, We Did It, and Filters: Love, each written by Perrine; 20 Poems of Love and One AK-47 by Hugo Claudin, and A Night With Shirley by Katherine Marty.
Claudin admits theatergoers “should be ready for the unexpected. Whenever I think we’ll never see someone again, they come back. Our shows are absurd and that is what we specialize in. It’s a guilty pleasure.”
For tickets to Want Want Lovely Play, Cangue League’s entry in the Dog Story Theater Lake Effect Fringe Festival at 8 p.m. on both Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 11 and 12, visit Dog Story Theater or call (616) 894-1252. For more Cangue League content, including upcoming performance dates, script submission information, and footage from past shows, visit their blog and Facebook page.
Matt Simpson Siegel is a Michigan-based writer whose work has appeared in print, film, radio, and television. He is also a contributing writer for REVUE Magazine.
Photographs by Adam Bird
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