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Mysterious Happening

"Misterioso" is a hard-to-describe combination of theater, jazz and pageantry that's part of Duke's celebration of Thelonious Monk

"Misterioso" -- even the title of the event suggests mystery and intrigue, and suggests that this may not be the typical theater production.


Jay O'Berski, Lecturing Fellow in the Department of Theater Studies and director of "Misterioso," uses words like "pageant" and "happening" to describe the evening being offered September 26-29 at Smith Warehouse as part of the "Following Monk" series organized by Duke Performances.


The project was conceived when Theater Studies Department Chair John Clum asked O'Berski to direct a "jazz play" for the Thelonious Monk tribute being produced to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the North Carolina legend's birth.


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O'Berski had heard about the Jazz Loft Project, the Duke Center for Documentary Studies' (CDS) documentation of 3,000 hours of recordings and 40,000 photographs made by legendary photographer W. Eugene Smith from 1957 to 1965.


He was intrigued that Smith's work centered around a loft building where major jazz musicians of the day, including Monk, gathered and played their music. "I thought it would be challenging to restage the loft itself," says O'Berski.


So attendees should come to "Misterioso" (named after one of Monk's live albums) in the spirit of improvisation that was famous in Smith's Sixth Avenue New York City jazz loft, circa 1960, where Monk, Miles Davis, Salvador Dali, Diane Arbus and others gathered. They will find a 90-minute evening of sound, video and bodies in motion that recaptures the incandescent creativity of Smith's loft.


The evening in part will grow out of a class O'Berski is teaching called Jazz Theater. Students will be reviewing transcripts from interviews made by CDS of the surviving loft participants as well as original work students and faculty have written.


Class members will also be studying music, plays and films that relate to the 1960s Manhattan jazz scene and attempting to create a sense of verisimilitude. With an entire warehouse filled with actors, musicians, singers and dancers, the show will be free-flowing.


Since everything happens at once you get to choose your own adventure," says O'Berski. "For example you might follow one or many stories, mix and match, just chill and listen to music, drink at the bar, engage with performers or be a voyeur.


"The project is massive in scope but all about the tiny details and truthful exchanges between vivid, soul-searching personalities," says O'Berski.


"I love the music, the style, the time, the experimentation with form and the uniting of different races that were components of this scene."