Review: STOMP at Memorial Auditorium

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STOMP, presented by the Ohio University Performing Arts Series on Monday, Jan. 30 and Tuesday, Jan. 31 at Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium, is easy to describe, but hard to pin down.

It’s as much an idea as a performance; a familiar idea by anyone who has absently drummed a pencil on a desktop. STOMP is this concept, distilled with sweat and precision.

STOMP consists of eight performers who create percussion instruments with found objects, from the traditional pots and pans, trash cans and plastic buckets to newspapers and plastic bags, inner-tubes and kitchen sinks.

Taut choreography carries the cast from one segment to the next, with regular comedic interludes built into the flow. The humor, sort of "Three Stooges-lite," is certainly targeted at children, but warm and appealing. 

The real star of the show, even more so than the many feats of improvised drumming, is the intense choreography that keeps everything constantly in motion. The skill and energy that goes into executing these rapid-fire musical pieces is truly awe-inspiring.

Considering that this is a traveling production, the set is surprisingly elaborate. It quickly becomes clear why, as every inch is put to use. Standout uses of props include a section with matchboxes and the most literal game of musical chairs ever played. 

Alongside the physical instruments, lighting has an important role to play as well. Used primarily for quiet transitions, light and dark are played off one another in several ways that add considerably to the show. One sequence in particular, where over a dozen cigarette lighters are used for both their sound and their flame, the performers "play" light just like any other upturned bucket.    

STOMP might skew young in terms of humor, but it's difficult to say who the ideal audience is for the show. Naturally, it's suitable for families. However, it's worth mentioning that younger children may get restless. As there is no spoken dialogue, STOMP is arguably the world’s loudest silent comedy, which could be daunting for those too young to grasp the concept.

All things considered, STOMP feels particularly timely. In an age when mainstream music is becoming more impacted by computers and digitization, STOMP dramatically calls into question just what constitutes an instrument in the first place. It’s a refreshing reminder that music is always within reach.