Arts & Entertainment » Theater

The Velvet Noose provokes at Rochester Fringe, but is there a point?

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The Velvet Noose's Harold Taddy and Ishmael Walker in "Super Flower Blood Moon." - PHOTO BY RACHEL COUTANT
  • PHOTO BY RACHEL COUTANT
  • The Velvet Noose's Harold Taddy and Ishmael Walker in "Super Flower Blood Moon."
The “Fringe” in Rochester Fringe Festival has come to be a catch-all term for off-the-beaten path, mildly eccentric performances spanning multiple art forms, often within the same performance.

But The Velvet Noose is a Rochester theater group that embraces the subversiveness that the word “fringe” implies. The core members, Harold Taddy and Theo Trombulak, have been producing work that’s on the edges — practically off the page entirely — of conventional drama and music performance for the past several years.

The Velvet Noose's Rivkah Simcha and Theo Trombulak in "Super Flower Blood Moon." - PHOTO BY RACHEL COUTANT
  • PHOTO BY RACHEL COUTANT
  • The Velvet Noose's Rivkah Simcha and Theo Trombulak in "Super Flower Blood Moon."
Velvet Noose shows are presented as a kind of strange incantation — expressed in an esoteric blend of poetry, physical theater, and avant-garde soundscapes — meant to unlock ambiguous occult truths. The result can best be described as pagan performance art.

The Velvet Noose is certainly not for everyone, and it’s arguably the “fringiest” act in all of Rochester Fringe. But in past performances, the troupe has always presented a clear set of values: the importance of bodily autonomy and dignity (Trombulak’s recurring battle cry of “My body is no chariot for you” comes to mind), the gender-fluid expression of sensuality, and the primacy of cathartic experience.

But in this latest performance, “Super Flower Blood Moon,” presented on Sept. 16 at  the MuCCC, these thematic signposts were less visible, and the overall meaning was lost.

Music and sound have always been integral components of The Velvet Noose, but rather than incorporate a live sound performance element as in the past, Taddy relied on a fully taped soundscape here. This decision was undoubtedly made to allow Taddy to fully engage in theatrical elements of the performance, which were quite demanding.
Harold Taddy and Ishmael Walker. - PHOTO BY RACHEL COUTANT
  • PHOTO BY RACHEL COUTANT
  • Harold Taddy and Ishmael Walker.
Cryptic characters emerged on the stage: a tall figure wearing a black thong and white veil; a half-naked woman carrying a crow. Then Trombulak and Taddy entered and began to move toward each other and then back away in a cyclical fashion. Each time they closed in on one another, they got tantalizingly close to touching, but the physical connection wasn’t consummated.



Eventually, the pair shed their respective clothes until they were left wearing only masks and thongs. They tried to approach the tall veiled figure, but were immediately stopped by the woman and her snapping crow.

Sexuality in “Super Flower Blood Moon” is palpable, but in an androgynous and non-exploitative way. The couple repeatedly dress and undress themselves, but they never touched. Taddy and Trombulak’s characters experience pangs, as if about to give birth.

What happened next was less obvious in its dramatic intent, and the degree to which the characters consented to what they endured was unclear. The ritual ratcheted up, as did the intimacy and the violence.

It must be said that “Super Flower Blood Moon” included the simulated exposure of male genitalia and multiple depictions of castration. These theatrical choices were not offensive in and of themselves. But it was important that this intentionally disturbing imagery had a point, attempting to lead the audience to some greater realization.

Theo Trombulak. - PHOTO BY RACHEL COUTANT
  • PHOTO BY RACHEL COUTANT
  • Theo Trombulak.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find that point. The characters appeared to experience extreme pain and ecstasy simultaneously, but in the end, it all came across as tortured and exploitative. The performance closed with Trombulak’s bizarre benediction, “Crow, say love, say desire, crow. Say pain, say transformation.” This utterance seemed to reduce those powerful emotions to mere buzzwords, incapable of tying a neat bow on the messy human sacrifice the audience had just witnessed.

But maybe that was the point. Life is messy, disturbing, and painful in both beautiful and ugly ways. Still it feels like an easy out for The Velvet Noose. The group isn’t required to provide all the answers to its art, by any means. But it would help to know we’re asking the right questions.

The Velvet Noose performs "Super Flower Blood Moon" again at 9 p.m. Saturday, September 24,  at MuCCC. Ages 16 and over.

Daniel J. Kushner is CITY's arts editor. He can be reached at
dkushner@rochester-citynews.com.