Boston Band Crush Archived Article: Play Crush: With the Needle that Sings in Her Heart

This article originally appears on Boston Band Crush ).
photo by Beth Hommel

Mike and I had the pleasure this past weekend of catching the last night of the Lexington High School play, With the Needle that Sings in Her Heart. This play was special because it was loosely inspired by the Neutral Milk Hotel album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and had the involvement of one Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls.

For those of you in the know, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea was inspired partly by the Diary of Anne Frank. The songs tell of the narrator falling in love with a girl out of time.

The play was written by several of the 20 students performing, and they chose a concentration camp as their setting – despite the fact that neither the album nor the diaries talk of that setting. Rather, both primarily address life in hiding. The actors took us on a 2 ½ hour journey into fantastical escapism as a means of coping with the unbearable atrocities taking place all around the character of Anne. Mike likened it to the movie, Dancer in the Dark, where Selma Jezkova escapes from her ever-crumbling life by experiencing its most mundane and most horrific moments as extravagant musical numbers. The play was slightly unfocused as it explored perhaps too many ideas and avenues, but this minor issue was made up for by the powerful mood and acting. Alex Parrish gave a particularly notable performance playing the “artist” (perhaps the character representing Jeff Mangum, Neutral Milk Hotel songwriter and frontman). Parrish’s singing and delivery of the Neutral Milk Hotel songs was spot on.

Amanda mostly stayed behind the curtains playing with the band (her piano playing is very distinctive). She came out from behind the curtain at several moments and wandered the stage: one part bandleader, one part omniscient spirit, and one part grim reaper. Finally towards the end she took center stage and sang one verse of “Two-Headed Boy Pt 2,” which was used as a recurring thematic song and closing for the whole show (with the exception of a recorded version of “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” playing on the speakers as the audience exited).

Palmer’s Cue Sheet from her Twitter feed

I also want to applaud Palmer, for choosing to return to her alma mater to give all of the kids an unforgettable experience. I’m sure the process of working with Amanda and the attention from the press (including, among many others, the Boston Phoenix, NPR, and Pitchfork) was a very rich experience for the students -and a great resume piece if they go into ‘the arts’.

You can view the entire production from Saturday’s show below courtesy of U-Stream. It doesn’t actually start until about 23 minutes into the video here, and there is an extended introduction during which audience members were invited up to dance in the circus-like precursor to the play. During this opening segment, there was quite a scare when a woman from the audience got on the stage extension to dance with a cast member and took a misstep right off the edge falling between the stage and stage extension. There were a few tense minutes before she got up and walked away seemingly all right.

“Two-Headed Boy Part 2” Lyrics:
Daddy, please hear this song that I sing,
In your heart there’s a spark that just screams
for a lover to bring a child to your chest,
That could lay as you sleep,
And love all you have left
Like your boy used to be, long ago,
Wrapped in sheets warm and wet.

Blister, please, with those wings in your spine,
Love to be with a brother of mine,
How he loved to find your tongue in his teeth,
in a struggle to find sacred songs that you keep
Wrapped in boxes so tight,
Sounding only at night as you sleep.

And in my dreams you’re alive and you’re crying,
as your mouth moves in mine, soft and sweet,
Rings of flowers round your eyes and
I’ll love you for the rest of your life
when you’re ready

Brother see, we are one and the same,
And you left with your head filled with flames
and you watched as your brains
fell out through your teeth, push the pieces in place
Make your smile sweet to see,
Don’t you take this away
I’m still wanting my face on your cheek.

And when we break
We’ll wait for our miracle,
God is a place where some holy spectacle lies.
When we break
We’ll wait for our miracle,
God is a place you will wait for the rest of your life.

Two-headed boy,
She is all you could need,
She will feed you tomatoes and radio wire,
And retire to sheets safe and clean,
But don’t hate her when she gets up to leave.