With City of Gold, Hand2Mouth joins Fever Theatre and Liminal at downtown's Goldsmith Building. The huge, largely empty space is full of exposed beams and unfinished floors, as though everything but the building's essential structure has been stripped away. City of Gold is right at home in this setting: Hand2Mouth director/wunderkind Jonathan Walters has constructed a production in which all of the mechanisms are visible, from microphones to hanging lights, and it inspires just as much curiosity and glee as the Goldsmith's funky, cavernous halls.
The show uses music, dance, and puppetry to explore the idea of the gold rush as a metaphor—and if that sounds boring, consider that the David Bowie song "Golden Years" is incorporated into the action. The soundtrack is just one of the show's many highlights; others include clever, whimsical props, and, of course, the energy and charisma of the five-person cast.
The ensemble members jump from role to role, crossing gender lines, decades, and continents in their single-minded quest for gold. Three conquistadors travel to the New World at the behest of their queen; a preacher joins the cult of gold; a prostitute and a society lady head West to strike it rich and find themselves. There's nothing particularly linear about any of this, and so much jumping about gives the piece a schizophrenic quality that is behind both its best moments and its worst. At best, it is hilarious, poignant, and surprising; at worst, muddled and confusing.
As the prostitute Gussy L'Amour, Erin Leddy superbly embodies the spirit of the entire production during a scene when Gussy, onstage at a dance hall, acts out a conversation between a pickaxe and a hankie, both of whom are having a hard time out West. The scene is funny, touching, and slightly baffling—and in the end, the concentration and poise Leddy brings to the scene banish any questions about why the scene is happening in the first place. This principle applies to the production as a whole: I'm not really sure why the orgy scene involving the fellatio of a golden banana and the ensuing fruit pulp come shot was necessary, but I'm glad it happened. Really glad.