"Silhouette" is Scotto Moore's a cappella science-fiction musical about a space pilot who crash-lands on a rogue planet. But it also asks an intellectual question about resistance and revenge.
According to people within earshot, a recent audience member at Annex Theatre was not enjoying the show — and complained so loudly during act one, everyone around her knew it.
Writer and composer Scotto Moore never caught the complainer’s name, but she had come to see “Silhouette,” his a cappella science-fiction musical about what happens when an intrepid, low-ranking space pilot named Aurelia loses contact with her imperial “Fleet.” (Sometimes the most generic names are the most ominous ones.) Aurelia crash-lands on a planet with a small colony of secretive, anti-Fleet rebels and becomes their prisoner. The rebels have to figure out what to do with her — in harmony.
If that stranger-in-a-strange-and-possibly-hostile-land trope sounds familiar, it’s because it’s been baked into nearly every science-fiction story in the Western canon. Even Shakespeare gave it a whirl in his late-career fantasy play “The Tempest.”
Moore’s projects are all experiments, and they feel that way — sometimes gorgeous, sometimes flailing, but always electrically cerebral. “Silhouette” is no exception. It’s good, not great, but it’s definitely ambitious. If this kind of thing (an a cappella science-fiction thought experiment about people’s moral obligations to potentially hostile strangers) sounds interesting to you, by all means — go see it.
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The complainer was, allegedly, upset that “Silhouette” wasn’t a “real musical”: no snazzy dancing, relationships between tempo and rhythm that didn’t meet her expectations.
The complainer probably didn’t realize it, but her reaction was weirdly perfect — she was like Aurelia (fiercely sung by Miranda Troutt with a combination of well-oiled technique and raw emotion), stuck in a foreign place and unsure what to make of it.
To be fair, the rebel town of Silhouette is a strange place — it feels like a cross between militant-insurgent hideout and touchy-feely, gender-fluid hippie commune. (It features 12 performers, 11 of whom identify in the program as women or nonbinary.) Aurelia is confused. So are the rebels. Should they hug her or hang her?
The rebel Nadia (Arika Gloud) sings: “You can love The Fleet but hate the Empire … she deserves a second chance.” Silhouette’s steely but charismatic security chief Miranda (Mandy Rose Nichols, who gives a coolly powerhouse performance) is less kind. “I think we should kill her,” she sings. “Execute her in the public square/Let her say she’s sorry/Then kill her on the spot — it’s only fair.”
Miranda doesn’t get her way, so Aurelia spends act one in a kind of courtship with Silhouette. At its heart, the musical feels like the story of a ruthless young FBI agent suddenly stranded at Burning Man (the old-school, undomesticated Burning Man of a few decades ago) and finds herself liking the joint, which triggers a series of existential crises for everyone involved.
But The Fleet eventually locates its lost pilot. Silhouette is revealed, and now has to deal with a new kind of crisis — a hostage crisis with an imperial power. All of this happens on a fairly bare stage, where the set pieces are large, white, sail-like triangles the actors move around to create different environments. “Silhouette” is low-budget fringe theater brimming with rich ethical questions.
Moore is a maestro of improbable art forms. He’s written another shoestring-budget science-fiction musical (“A Mouse Who Knows Me“); a horror-comedy mashup (“H.P. Lovecraft: Stand-Up Comedian!“); and “The Coffee Table,” a web series about a mysterious piece of furniture that sends a pack of young housemates through time and space, battling aliens and trying to get back home.
Why does he choose such improbable mediums? “I don’t know why I keep doing this to myself,” Moore said with an amused sigh. “I have this urge to not repeat myself.”
A cappella, Moore said, “is visceral and intimate. There’s no net, no orchestra. These people have to live as a tight-knit unit. And the unit of the music is the magic. When you nail it, with 12 people all in tune, you have all that range of the human voice. It’s potent.”
A handful of “Silhouette’s” 12 singers (including Nichols and Troutt as Miranda and Aurelia) are powerful, while the rest range between pretty good and mediocre.
But during a few moments, when the cast sings as a whole, the effect is sonically lavish, like a dozen different kinds of honey, blending in unexpected harmonic flavors. Moore said he’s heavily influenced by Björk, LCD Soundsystem and Stephen Sondheim, which adds up to a taste for unexpected song structures (contemporary, but not your typical verse-chorus-verse) and tempo shifts.
The intellectual question of “Silhouette” (because Moore’s work always has an intellectual question) is about resistance and revenge. If a group of people resist an evil empire, and set up a safe zone like Silhouette, what should they do when they’re discovered and threatened?
“As I get older and become more aware of my surroundings, I’ve been thinking about how you resist fascism,” Moore said. “It’s an argument my friends have: ‘Is punching a Nazi ethical?’ If you asked me on most days, I’d probably say ‘yes.’ “
But not on every day — and that’s the debate Moore makes the residents of Silhouette have with themselves.
Moore didn’t get a chance to talk to the complainer at “Silhouette,” which he regrets. “It’s fine if somebody doesn’t like the show,” he said. He just wanted to hear her out. We’ll probably never know if the second act changed her mind.
“The woman was very apologetic when approached” during intermission, he said. “She went back in for act two and then we lost track of her.”
“Silhouette” by Scotto Moore. Through May 19; Annex Theatre, 1100 E. Pike St., Seattle; $15-$40; annextheatre.org