Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
“Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” Revelation 1:17b-18
In her challenging and remarkable performance piece “Hard Rain,” currently running at 59E59 Theater B, Barb Jungr alludes to the often cryptic nature of Bob Dylan’s lyrics. There is yet another bit of cryptic poetry from a source often mined by both Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen; namely, the Bible. It is best not to argue that point. The imagery of both writers is informed by the rich imagery of the sacred books of the Judean-Christian communities. This does not mean that either poet has a faith construct consistent with either faith; it simply means they – like other modern and contemporary authors – allude to this material for its rich imagery and metaphorical treasure trove.
Dylan and Cohen – the troubadours of truth – like the “first and the last” before them – figuratively (and often literally) have entered all those spaces (metaphorically “Death and Hades”) that have always threatened to undo humankind and the planet upon which it treads boards and often finds itself treading water. And they in truly redemptive fashion have shared not only what they saw about the “hard rains that are going to fall” but also the urgency of a meaningful response from humankind. Barb Jungr – like the messenger on Patmos who shared the news that the early Christians could survive the torment and torture of the Roman Empire – assures her audience that though all is not right in “The Land of Plenty,” “The Chimes of Freedom” counterpoint catastrophe. We are able to affirm that we are alive; yet, we need to be aware that the often surreal revelations of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen continue to threaten our existence.
Barb Jungr is more than a performer-singer. She is the consummate performance artist, spoken word artist, poet, prophet, Sherpa, interpreter, and spirit-guide. She completely trusts the material she performs – as she completely trusts Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. All thirteen songs are remarkable arrangements of both songwriters and Ms. Jungr reimagines each of them with unique styling and phrasing and with a voice laden with raspy gentleness that counterpoints the “three angels above the street” (those who have eyes will see).
Particularly challenging are Bob Dylan’s “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding);” “Hard Rain;” “Blind Willie McTell;” “Chimes of Freedom;” and Ms. Jungr’s encore “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Equally challenging are Leonard Cohen’s “First We Take Manhattan;” Everybody Knows;” and “The Land of Plenty” which perhaps epitomizes the hope of the performance: “And I don’t really know who sent me, /To raise my voice and say:/May the lights in The Land of Plenty/Shine on the truth some day.”
There is no sugar-coating of the mess humanity has repeatedly and successfully made throughout history and the rehearsal of those mistakes and their consequences (most often affecting the 99 percent rather than the privileged one percent) makes for a somewhat “bumpy ride.” But sharing a night with Barb Jungr is a redemptive blessing. Redemption is often “not pretty or fun.” It is, however, all we have to hope for and all we can strive for. In the words of Bob Dylan, “And what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?/And what’ll you do now my darling young one?/I’m a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin.’