Courtesy of sharkskin boy--Objective:Ministries.
My personal favorite is the advice for kids who come across an, ohmigod, aethiest:
If you find an Atheist in your neighborhood,
TELL A PARENT OR PASTOR RIGHT AWAY!
You may be moved to try and witness to
these poor lost souls yourself, however
AVOID TALKING TO THEM!
Atheists are often very grumpy and bitter and will lash out at children or they may even try to trick you into neglecting God's Word.
Very advanced witnessing techniques are needed for these grouches. Let the adults handle them.
Strangely, I think at least the last bit of advice could be applied to theatre critics... and, seriously, click on Lambuel's head. It totally freaks me out.
At first glance, Oh, the Humanity and Other Exclamations by Will Eno (behind the amazing Thom Pain (based on nothing)), seems to be straight from an undergraduate who’s just finished an introductory ethics class, supersaturated with Levinas and Arendt, and has realized there is a world outside his own, ready to pen a number of political songs hacked directly from an early Bob Dylan LP. And to be sure, the piece veers dangerously close to this territory, making it at times pedantic and even outright annoying.
But take a second look, because Eno is a brilliant young writer, and the parables he proffers in Oh, the Humanity become incredibly genuine and refreshing, with a dash of Eno’s signature dark humor.
In short, we are presented with five scenarios (“short plays” as they’re referred to)—a losing sports coach, video daters, a corporate PR woman, photographers, and a couple on the way to church (although they’re not quite sure why). Each of these presents a person or people who we expect to be the masters of superficiality, spin, and, above all, brevity. But the twist is that Eno allows these people to let loose and express themselves without reservation. What would the PR woman say to a roomful of bereaved people whose loved ones’ deaths are (in)directly the fault of her employers—sans script? And so we have proclamations introduce each scene ("Behold, the Coach. In a blazer," "Ladies and Gentlemen, the rain") to really get at the Whitman-esque celebration of the everyperson, the everyday, for a media-rife era.
The result is magical, as the personal frustrations, regrets, and search for a greater connection and meaning in the world come vomited out. If you will, a sense of (wait for it!:) humanity. And so the coach recites a sonnet to a lost love, the video daters discuss their ruminations on suicide, and the photographers discuss the mystery and joy of a moment caught in time. (The PR woman: “The face is a cry for help!”) It is a sweet and somewhat disturbing reminder of what makes many of us tick, and, in Eno’s own morbid idiom, we are reminded (quite literally) of the beauty in the world.
Of course, the evening would be nothing without the haggard and understated Brian Hutchison and puppy-dog-eyed Christina Kirk, who both grapple with Eno’s verbosity with the ferocity of those clinging fast to sanity. They offer some of the most awe-inspiring acting I’ve seen in quite sometime.
So although Eno’s zeppelin is full of hydrogen, he deftly avoids sending Oh the Humanity down in flames.
While I realize that Diane Keaton’s recent slip of tongue on Good Morning America has already been superceded by other news, but as I’ve been ensconced in my borough prepping for spring classes lately and random celebrity gossip is my only outlet (sorry Tweedster!), I have a sort of unrelenting urge to point out a moment of juxtapositional chauvenism on FOXNews.com.
I mean, I might be overreacting, but the concluding paragraph to the exegesis of how it came to be that Keaton dropped “the f-bomb” whilst admiring Diane Sawyer’s plump lips is strange, right?
Keaton was admiring Diane Sawyer's plump lips during an interview when she said she wished she had lips like Sawyer's, because then she wouldn't have to work on her own "[expletive] personality" and would be married by now.
Known for her colorful and genuine personality, the 62-year-old's capricious fashion sense in "Annie Hall" consisting of vests, ties, baggy pants and clothing characteristic of menswear made her a fashion icon in the late 1970s.
Beyond the amicable absurdity of the whole exchange, I have to question why FOXNews was so determined to identify Keaton, who's certainly managed to accomplish something more in the past thirty years than fashion icon status, as such. It would seem that the station felt the need to masculinize Keaton so as not to suggest that a “proper” role model for women would be so vulgar. Though, gotta say, I’m not entirely sure whether the vulgarity was Keaton’s actually swearing on live television or caring so much about the voluptuousness of her lips. Isn’t there a product for that?
I expect my irritation over the whole matter stems in part from a recent inflammatory post on Slate’s Dear Prudie. (Again, I’ve been hiding out to read everything written in the past twenty years on the historical avant-garde. Cut me some slack here.) The number of readers who engaged in a veritable tirade over the feminist issue with the word “lady” was shocking—haven’t we yet established just how anachronistic and patriarchal the word is?
Plump of lip or not, I’ll take being called a “girl” any day over a “lady.” And I'll be wearing baggy pants and sharkskin boy's shirt, too. Fuck that.
Two years ago, Reggie Watts won the prestigious Andy Kaufman Award for comedy, and seeing Disinformation at the Public, it’s quite clear why. Blending incredible vocal stylings (one critic insightfully commented: a combination of Meredith Monk and Mel Blanc) with hip-hop, political corporate gags, movement, and classic non-sequitors, the show is one of the more intelligent and fun hours I’ve spent in the theatre in a while.
That being said, the Kaufman aesthetic shines through: as he spins his tales of developing state-of-the-art technology, killing his grandfather, and the end of the world, each is predictably derailed by music or plain old mumbling and nonsense, a tribute to Kaufman’s work in which the joke is not the content, but the form itself.
Not that the performance must be effective in some way or another (the title indeed provides us with an inkling that this will not be agit-prop); not that I couldn’t place a Marcuse-ian reading of it concerning how culture immediately adapts any form of rebellion in their alienation from their very sense of being alienated; but it takes too much work for a performance that is certainly cool and smart, but ultimately leaves you feeling befuddled (and not in the magical way, which is possible). Perhaps it’s that Watts doesn’t have the pop personality Kaufman cultivated for years, perhaps it’s that Watts’ gestures of oblivion aren’t nearly as baroque.
But sometimes, folks, you simply gotta sit back and laugh at how silly the human race has become, with a fluffy-haired guide like Watts as your guide.
It’s quite difficult to pull off an hour and forty-five minutes of pure monologue, but Mark O’Rowe’s Terminus does a deft job of it. Weaving together the narratives of the three characters, each takes a turn walking us through a day in Dublin, filled with serial killings, gangster lesbians, back-alley abortions, and demons. Made of worms.
O’Rowe’s attempts at poetics reach heights of beauty and humor (how many words rhyme with “cunt”?), but also depths of contrivance and the oh-dear-god-just-get-me-through-this syndrome. The actors (Andrea Irvine, Eileen Walsh, and Aidan Kelly) keep things fresh and devastatingly genuine, however, which more than makes up for the stumbles in language. And much like sharky’s point regarding Michel Melamed’s Regurgitophagy, sometimes it pays off to sit back and enjoy the sheer rhythm and patter of the speech.
All in all, Terminus does a wonderful job of reeling the audience in—it’s certainly not easy to get an audience to laugh at a gory knifing, nor cringe at the description of popping eyeballs. But it does beg mentioning that the success of Terminus is predicated largely by the New Brutalists et al: the dark humor of Martin McDonagh, the vomited language of Conor McPherson, and the empathetic lost souls of Sarah Kane (indeed, the characters are even named “A” “B” and “C”, int the abstracted vein of 4.48 Psychosis). So although it certainly isn’t a masterwork of its own, it is the worthy pupil.
Of greatest note is the design by Jon Bausor, starkly lit by Philip Gladwell: simply eight shards of a broken mirror, one for each character to stand on (they do not move from their spots), and five ominously hanging over them, ready to drop at any moment. With the prominent three shards above the characters, the stage has a remarkable resemblance to Robert Edmond Jones’ famous design for Macbeth. The rawness of the contrast, the sharp lines, and precarious positioning are demonstrative of how to do so much with so little.
I have a theory I’d like to share with you: I believe that sometime between November of this year and January of 2009, President Bush will call a giant press conference on the White House Rose Garden, where the Commander-in-Chief will enter and proceed to shoot ten kittens in the face. At point blank range. Just to ensure, after all he’s done and gotten away with in the past eight years, that he is truly infallible.
And indeed much of his (in/mis)actions have been with words, and this is perhaps what I lament the most in the wake of this administration: despite all my rants and raves on the ineffectiveness of words and their symptomatic slippages, the power they have, no matter how institutionalized and constructed and patriarchal they may be, have deflated and been voided emanating from the mouth of the Toast of Texas. The resulting loss of respect both within and without our borders is audacious, and yet nothing really comes of it, with the exception of intolerance and death.
A lot of this comes from the religious rhetoric Bush misuses: vapid, uninformed, and out of context, Bush is exemplary of a bastardization of a language that is supposed to be hopeful, awesome, and loving.
This underlines the great power behind Young Jean Lee’s newest piece, Church, at Under the Radar. Lee, one of the greatest young playwrights working today, shows off her wit, subtlety, and writerly dexterity through her somewhat ironic compassion for the church service. The performance is just that, as Reverends Jose, Weena, Katy, and Katie talk us through the power of the love of Jesus. And much like Les Freres Corbusier’s Hell House (2006), the performance could certainly be viewed with all the downtown smugness one might expect, or it could be attended and heeded with the utmost sincerity (a testimony not only to Lee’s text, but the superb performances by the cast).
Even when Lee takes liberties with the “reality” of preaching—Reverend Jose screaming about what useless lives the audience leads, Reverend Weena talking about the joys of her drug addiction and gang-banging—I can’t help but feel it could certainly be taken at face value by a true believer. Add a dance number to Christian pop, and drive it on home with a dozens-strong choir at the end, and Church soars above any mass, Bat Mitzvah, or State of the Union address that I’ve ever seen.
Okay, so I’m a writer. A critic. An “academic”—though I don’t always claim that title with pride. I am not a performer. I do not go onstage. I do not wave my hand wildly when performers ask for volunteers. That said, I willingly, and slightly less willingly, took on the role of performer two times Monday in pieces from the Public’s Under the Radar festival: Rotozaza’s Etiquette, coproduced by the Foundry, and Michel Melamed’s Regurgitophagy.
Etiquette takes place amid the clatter of the East Village’s Veselka. Tweed, my partner in crime, and I sat across from each other at a two-top by the window, following instructions piped in through earphones. While the performance didn’t necessarily cross any borders of comfort between the Tweedman and I—though had I been performing across from a stranger, I expect my experience would have been somewhat more tense—it did make me pleasantly aware of the fact that we were not only engaged in the performance but also performing for both Veselka’s customers and passers-by on the street. Taking us through a scene from Ibsen, a tranquil meditation, and a scripted conversation with each other, Etiquette engages all the senses as the restaurant’s ambiance saturates the experience while remaining intimately within the space created through the sound track. Though I do take some umbrage over the fact that, while Tweed walked out unscathed, I had a small scene drawn in Sharpie on my thumb, water dripped onto my palm and cheeks (it’s cold out there—I could have chapped!), and was asked to take a sip from a glass of red-colored water—a glass I wasn’t entirely convinced had been refreshed from the last performers. Oh, what I wouldn’t do for Art…
Which, ironically enough, arose later in the day as Tweed and I jaunted over to the Public to see Regurgitophagy. The audience takes responsibility for Michel Melamed’s well being in Regurgitophagy, as every sonic response—a laugh, a comment, a cough, a squeaky seat—results in a shock to Melamed’s body, connected at wrists and ankles to jumper cable–like attachments. As he’s twitching from electrical impulses, Melamed offers a poetic tirade of spoken word, comedy, and conversation that, taking on political and scatological subjects, in turn shocks the audience. Racing through plays on words and breaks in language, Melamed’s speech sometimes slipped into pure sonic effect itself, a gently musical break from the textual assault.
The piece offers a complicated position for both performer and audience: if Melamed can’t bring the audience to laugh or respond—despite the resultant shock—he’s failed; yet it is no small request to willingly cause even a small voltage of pain to a fellow human, and the piece recalls psychological tests, images of political torture, and, in a lighter sense, composer Tom Johnson’s Failing for solo double bass, which demands that the performer fail at some part of the text-based work in order to consider the performance successful. When Melamed asked a young woman near the front of the audience her name, she hesitated long enough for him to ask again. The situation shifted when Melamed asked if anyone doubted that he was actually being shocked.
And thus rose the eminent Richard Schechner, infamous not only for his brilliant theatre direction, scholarship, and pedagogy, but also for his absolute inability to allow a request from a stage to go unanswered. Which, I have to say, I’m a huge fan of—as unwilling as I am to take centerstage, I love moments of unpredictability that such requests so often garner, and I’ve been known to shout out the occasional line or pass a prop along from the comfy anonymity of my seat. Suddenly, though, we, as audience, were put in the position of potentially shocking one of our own, as it were—and one who, despite his determination to prove that something was rotten in the state of shock, admitted that he has a “very bad heart.” And thus rose sharkskin, leaping up to take Richard’s place and finding herself—much to her chagrin and not a little horror—holding two jumper cables in each hand.
It was, indeed, a shocking night. I refrained from clapping at the end of the performance—Melamed still zapped-up—but I did rather enjoy the terrible glee on the face of a woman sitting nearby as she deliberately brought her hands together many, many times.
[Photos: Etiquette, Veselka restaurant, photo by Anton Hampton; Regurgitophagy, the Public Theatre, photo by Debora 70; random lightning bolt]
The opening ten minutes of Jay Schieb’s This Place Is a Desert are completely mesmerizing: set to the incessant ringing of a telephone, each character goes through a prescribed physical routine of everyday action and navigation through a labyrinthine set. Many perspectives are blocked off but viewable through curtains, windows, and doors. Indeed, one room (the bathroom) is entirely hidden from sight. But the other “ways in” are through camera feeds projected onto four large screens above the stage in various combinations, giving the audience simultaneously a more complete yet fragmented point of view; sometimes we’re let in on an intimate moment of close-up, while others only give us a leg, two eyes.
And herein lies the brilliance in Scheib’s staging; the monotony of the action, projected for our sadistic voyeurism, is fitting enough to be broadcast on primetime CBS; the Big Brother aesthetic comes through loud and clear with the incredibly makeshift environments and forced, at times orgiastic, interpersonal drama. The cast is trapped like rats in a maze, milling about and reacting with futility for our amusement. And indeed, Desert taps into the cultural desire for this staged, reflexive nonsense, as well as the desire of the participants to be the next fifteen-minute celebrities, giving us surreptitious takes to the camera every now and again. They are well aware of their surveillance, evidenced in full by the camera operator (deftly pulled off by Karl Allen) as character throughout the action.
For the next hour, we are let into a world of brutal, disconnected people and their dysfunctional attempts to make honest, emotional connections. And rightfully so: the reality-obsessed moment encourages a Sartrian everywhere and nowhere, a comic sense of existential struggle, displayed for us in a vast network of both live bodies and live wires.
But the virtuosity of Scheib’s conception and design are, sadly, not met by the clunky, heavy-handed script. Hyperbolic and forced references to Virilio, Camus, and Libeskind are the proverbial mallet over the head: “Get it folks?! This is what I’m trying to say!” And although these bourgeois intelligentsia are hysterical in their juxtaposition within their pop entertainment-environs, the actual people (because these are indeed people, people) would have been just fine—even more powerful and tragic—making their way through the everyday humdrummery through the maze.
The devil makes an appearance in a number of works for theatre and music-theatre: Faust and Stravinsky’s Histoire du Soldat, for instance, and then there’s the sad fate of Robert Johnson. The US premiere of 1927’s Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, playing at PS 122 as part their COIL Festival and the Public’s Under the Radar fest, welcomes Ole Nick in this surreal travel through time that engages storytelling, silent film, live piano music, and the inherent creepiness of old photographs (wonder what Barthes would say about that). The mise-en-scène is already set as the audience enters the space, with Lilian Henley improvising sweetly nostalgic melodies on a piano that also holds an antiquish china tea cup, and the storytelling begins as Suzanne Andrade and Esme Appleton tell and act out within noir animation by Paul Barritt slightly deranged and often disturbing tales that include “The Nine Deaths of Choo Choo Le Chat,” “The Biscuit Tin Revolution,” “The Lodger”—a strange blend of Kafka (oh the cockroaches), Turn of the Screw, and, for sure, Edward Gorey—and “The Grandmother.”
The ensemble, which won the Carol Tambor Best of Edinburgh Award for Between the Devil, makes creepiness their mantra, in the sweetest, most charming way possible. Adjectives like “devilishly,” “frighteningly,” and “deadly” litter their (eminently positive) critical reviews, and while they’ve been compared to the equally eerie work of Shockheaded Peter, David Lynch, and Gorey—and here I would also add Squonk opera and perhaps even Peter Greenaway—their style is entirely their own. My only complaint is that the show began at 10pm—surely these ten strange tales would be more befitting the witching hour.