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The Needle That Sings in Her Heart: A Heart-Needling Experience

A few weeks ago, we talked to Amanda Palmer about "The Needle That Sings in Her Heart," a play inspired by Neutral Milk Hotel's classic album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Yesterday, we had the good fortune to see the show for ourselves. We hadn't been inside a high school auditorium for some time, but this experience was worth the trouble.

The play was an interesting intersection of exuberant performativity and onerous duty; a contrast between circus giddiness and deadly serious situations. Based loosely on Anne Frank's own story, it followed Anne and her sister Margot throughout their concentration camp experience, weaving in scenes from their life prior to imprisonment as well as many extended theatrical fantasies. A band behind a mostly-opaque screen provided the soundtrack, functioning in conjunction with the rest of the play's content to suggest that art is what keeps us going behind the scenes.

The show made smart, touching use of the Neutral Milk Hotel songs, some of which nearly brought this Bostonist to tears (but she really likes NMH and is really sappy, so this may not have been everyone's experience). The student actors did a remarkably mature job, and Amanda Palmer, despite having no speaking lines (but plenty of action: see her cue sheet), was a masterful presence on stage. Circus trappings included ringmaster jackets and a tightrope walker with umbrella, whose balancing implement deteriorated over time, much like the spirits of the prisoners.

Eventually unable to continue pretending that fear is "fabulous, exciting, astonishing, and raunchy," the characters come to realize that fear is what keeps them alive—or is hope really at the center of their ability to carry on? "Two-Headed Boy" and its title lyrics, as well as the line "brother see we are one in the same" and "don't hate her when she gets up to leave," was at the heart of the show's battle with themes of connection, theatricality, death, and remembrance.

Overall, the play underscored the power of art to deal with tragedy, and provided a fine example of an effective adaption of other artistic elements in a unique way. Kudos to Palmer, director Steven Bogart, and above all the students, who played a major role in creating a truly original, if inspired, work.