The Terrible Pile of Clothes
Music by Douglas J. Cuomo
Direction and Design by Doug Fitch Text by Stephen Greco
The Terrible Pile of Clothes brings music, words and puppetry together in perfect union. Written in the whimsical style of Edward Gorey, laced with hints of dry wit and Victorian dread, the piece voices the oddly calm predicament of a young couple whose son appears to have been transformed into a pile of clothing. Slowly, imperceptibly, the pile creeps around the house freely, as the couple come to accept the boy's apparent transformation as normal. Written for full orchestra and countertenor/narrator, and with the pile of clothes being brought to life through a puppeteer-operated marionette, the music has two distinct layers. The first depicts the story as told by the narrator, the second explores the dark, mysterious and dysfunctional nature of the household where all is not as it seems.
The Terrible Pile of Clothes is a work for all ages, both humorous and thoughtful. It requires minimal staging and lighting and is designed specifically for symphony orchestra (exact instrumentation TBD).
Says composer Douglas Cuomo, “In general. the music will be accessible, but not simplistic. The music will be an illustrative soundscape with two distinct layers. The first layer will support the narrator by relating to the tone of the text—mordantly humorous in an off-kilter way. The second will expose the darkness implicit in the description of life in that household-- dark, mysterious and dysfunctional. These two layers, snaking around each other, will alternatively come to the fore and recede into the background. In between some portions of the text there will be interludes that musically illustrate descriptive aspects of the text — the normal house in a nice neighborhood, the pile moving around lamps, furniture, etc. When the aria occurs it will be a surprise reveal for the audience, and the countertenor will sing in powerful and melodic way, in full contrast to his previous spoken delivery.”
The production concept behind the piece makes it extremely portable and affordable. Says director/designer Doug Fitch, “The Terrible Pile of Clothes is designed for easy deployment on the concert stage. The work can be done with no special lighting or space requirements beyond the usual few feet between the orchestra and the stage edge. A best-possible version of the production might involve minimal lighting cues with a spotlight operator, and/or stand lights to heighten the theatricality. The pile-of-clothes character is portrayed by a marionette operated by a puppeteer-performer in black who emerges from the pile itself. The puppeteer operates the marionette in such a way as to express the character’s personality and soul—e.g., reaching for an object described in the narrative, seeming to observe its surroundings, etc.”
The Terrible Pile of Clothes
Ours is a normal house, basically—just me and my wife. Little yard, nice neighborhood.
We used to have a kid named Sam, but we haven’t seen him in years. Now, going in and out of Sam’s room, there’s a pile of clothes that likes to crawl around the house.
We searched for Sam in the pile, of course, but there was nothing in there but the clothes.
The pile seems to get around easily enough, though very, very slowly—so slowly we can’t see it move. It pulls itself along imperceptibly like a snail, with the arms of shirts and legs of pants and things. And we’re careful not to step on it because… who knows?
At first, we kept an eye on it, to see if we could spot when it moved. But really, who can be bothered? People have jobs, errands, appointments! We don’t know if the pile likes being in the house alone while we’re at work, or whether it prefers company. For a while, we were leaving it little plates of food—you know, cookies, fruit, and such-- in case it was hungry, but it ignored them. It didn’t want our pickles, pizza, or meatballs, either.
Once we tried vegan jalapeno poppers-- but no.
What’s weird is that the pile has this terrible penchant for moving items around, like floor lamps, rugs, little tables, the basket of magazines. This may be meant to be funny, but we find it terribly inconvenient. We’re extremely particular about our house, and we like things to be neat and in their place.
And the thing is, the pile doesn't seem to want anything else-- just to occupy different parts of the house and occasionally to move things. It doesn’t want to go out, though sometimes, especially during the rain, we find it quite near the bay window in the living room. And for a pile of clothes, it’s pretty clean. It never seems to need laundering or react in any way when we launder other clothes.
It’s weird, too, when we have people over and the pile is in the same room. We always feel compelled to make some excuse about why a pile of clothes should be in the corner of such an otherwise neat living room—well, neat except for the magazine basket being a little too far from the armchair. When you think about it, it is kind of funny!
What’s really funny, though, is that when guests are leaving, they never notice that the pile has moved a foot or so from where it was when they arrived. We see it—but some people don’t pay as much attention to these things as we do.
Like I say, ours is basically a normal house. We used to have a kid named Sam. And maybe we still do. Every so often, when we’re in bed at night and the lights are off, we think we might hear singing—though we can never quite make out the words.
My mommy and my daddy said to have some fun at school,
But bullies always pushed me here and there like some damned fool,
I never played their games but got the message loud and clear,
The smartest move that I could make was just to disappear.
So now I’m neither here nor there, nor even in between,
And just as happy evermore to stay at home unseen.