Random acts

Of note

For a fistful of pennies: Asheville-based trio Red Penny Arsenal — Holiday Rd.’s Matt Anderson (guitar, vocals), Jared Rutledge (bass) and Lauren Habenict (vocals) — have recently released a four-song debut. The band, which describes its music as “a lustful symphony of intoxicating angst,” is currently selling this self-titled work for a mere dollar. For more information, e-mail TheTrendys1@aol.com.

Get with the sequel: Local odd-rockers Piedmont Charisma have announced plans to release their second album by late summer. The group has been recording the currently unnamed effort at Onion Music (no word yet whether the album will be released by the group’s former label, Slave, or will be put out independently). Visit www.piedmontcharisma.com.

Front-row reviews

What: To Seem is to Be

Where: 35below

When: Friday, April 11

“When you look at me, and you tell me that you don’t understand,” intoned Verba, “it’s all I can do to smile and say, ‘I don’t understand what you don’t understand.'”

A monologue about being transgendered should, at the very least, be interesting. It’s a somewhat atypical life experience, after all — and a performance like To Seem Is to Be potentially offered a rare window into a little-seen world.

Except that, in execution, it was to be a horribly banal mess of pretentious quasi-philosophy and extremely awkward staging barely salvaged by a few moderately amusing anecdotes.

There wasn’t much plot: Verba — a Scandals housecast performer — wasn’t telling a story; rather, she was merely going on aimlessly about various parts of her life.

For nearly an hour, she talked about how hard it is to be her. Along the way, she was out of synch with lighting cues, glanced at her notes to see what came next and repeated a prose poem apparently about feeling disconnected from the world while dreaming.

Occasionally, livelier anecdotes broke things up and even drew laughter — for instance, Verba’s confessed fondness for comic books with strong female role models and a preponderance of buff men in tight clothes. And one comedic aside — about how her co-workers often dodged curious customers’ questions about her — worked well.

And when Verba talked about family — her father, and the life she had before becoming openly transgendered — the show became emotionally compelling.

But for the most part, her “story” is a cycle of seemingly accidental — and definitely tedious — repetitions of a single theme.

The staging itself was sloppy — technically uneven and on the arrogant side of artsy. For a monologue, there were too many lighting changes, many of them unsuccessful (though in fairness, opening nights tend to be riddled with technical glitches) and few seeming artistically necessary.

One of Verba’s sets was simply a series of projected images that were distracting rather than mood-enhancing, while the music meant to signal transitions was similarly ineffective: Too loud for the room, it drowned out much of the monologue. And curiously, Verba was still “on book” — she hadn’t yet memorized her own monologue, actually reading her lines while on stage.

In a free show, maybe that would have been easier to overlook.

If Verba dropped the ponderous stage craft, stopped trying to wow the crowd with seemingly irrelevant prose poems and simply told the story of her life — how she went from being a repressed boy to a transgendered drag performer — she’d have a potentially interesting show. But in its present incarnation, To See Is to Be is surprisingly colorless, and far too pretentious for its own good.

Verba will perform what she calls a “slightly revamped version” of her show at 35below on Saturday, May 3 (10:30 p.m.) and Sunday, May 4 (3:30 p.m.).


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