Sage Francis and B. Dolan Present: Strange Speech, Famous Development

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Strange Speech, Famous Development
Published 11 Aug 2016

An amalgamation of the names of the performers' US and UK record labels, the title of Rhode Island-based spoken word artists Sage Francis and B. Dolan's Fringe debut is curiously ambiguous. Seeming to point at something beyond its obscure surface meaning, it is the perfect title for a show that appears to toy with transcending the straightforward gig format. Though it ultimately settles for a traditional approach, Strange Speech, Famous Development remains a success as a showcase of the pair's prodigious lyrical talents.

Backing music remaining unintrusive or absent, the pair's formidable lyricism taking the focus throughout. In his opening number, 'Still Electric', Dolan exhibits immense lyrical control, short-circuiting his flow with stunning technical flair, each gasp of air crammed between bars injecting his verse with a vitalising shot of urgency. Though Francis's rhythm can sometimes meander, and his rhymes feel disproportionately driven by sound, to the detriment of sense, his delivery is feverishly passionate, reaching its apogee with the show's poignant conclusion.

Between poems, the pair share anecdotes and give glimpses into the creative process from which the show was born. This openness, and the performers' warm affability, lends the gig an almost familial feel that casts the audience as active respondents, generating the performance in collaboration with the artists. Here, the show seems to grasp at something greater than a series of—admittedly solid—spoken word pieces. Their stories develop thematic similarities within the pair's diverse work, but it neglects to tie the threads that it offers, robbing the performance of its full impact.

But though the goals the performers set for themselves are modest, they nonetheless achieves them with aplomb. Strange Speech, Famous Development, Francis and Dolan admit, sees the artists “working things out” in front of an audience. With their percipient material and extensive lyrical talents, this process is a pleasure to watch.