Thursday, September 17, 2015

Forest Fringe 2015: Quick Wrap-Up

Some thoughts on Forest Fringe 2015. Another year of exciting work by artists who were largely new to me.

Week One

This Is Not A Magic Show: Vincent Gambini’s sleight of hand show like his card tricks are richer than they may appear at first blush. Somehow a magic show that is not a magic show seems like a really good place to contemplate human existence, our role in the world, and what we want from performance. What a wonderful joy this was.

I Worried My Heart Wasn’t Big Enough: Sometimes I am the exact WRONG audience member for a show. Sharron Devine's one-on-one show about mothers and daughters was not designed for someone like me. She addresses the loss of her mother at an early age by having the audience member dress up like her mother and then sit through moments in her life with her. The work was too sentimental for me and too reliant on a hetero-normative, traditional family structure (and the “awe” we are meant to have for children). I mean, fine. I chose wrong. That’s all on me.

BUT the one real complaint I had about this show was that after it was all said and done Devine asks you to share a loss you’ve had. What a messy piece of business that is. There is not space for you to share a story or actually unburden that loss. It is meant to be a sort of doorknob moment as you’re headed out. It left me in an awkward situation--I shared my moment of loss which is upsetting and then there was no space for me to have my authentic moment about my loss. A sort of weird head-tilt at my loss felt dismissive. So I sat in the anti-chamber and cried over how awkward it was to have to pay my way out of the show with my personal grief. Not really the point of the show.

We May Have to Choose: Emma Hall’s thoughtful exploration of declarations was a short but exciting piece about putting ideas out into the world. The entire work consists of statements of opinion, beliefs, prejudice. Some of these are lyrics, clich├ęs, or original thoughts. Some are controversial and some are benign. But in the flurry of words and said with such confidence (even if prefaced at times with “In my opinion…”) it’s the type of work that gets you thinking about what you hold to be true and what ideas govern your existence. By not speaking what are you supporting with your silence. “Hairy legs are remembered.” “Black holes don’t care about you.” “Men like to be experts. Women like to be held.”

Late Night Love: Eggs Collective's show reminded me of my teenage years listening to the American radio call-in show for the lovelorn hosted by Deliah. With walkie-talkies standing in for radios, we sit around at cocktail tables listening to radio call-in moments and recollections of the meanings of these moments. Any work that evokes your teenage self lying on your bed and wondering about the future is worth seeing. This WIP may need more visual elements as it develops but the core of the emotion of the work is absolutely there and was a heady throwback for me.

Reformation 9: Much will be written about "artists" "Luther & Bockelson"'s Reformation 9, I'm sure. It is the kind of work that forces a certain amount of self-reflection. And I'm not surprised that that self-reflection left me feeling like the Narc at the cool kids party--seeing the consequences rather than the exaltation. Watching the unfolding with the eye of a critic (and that of a lawyer) and not with excitement, giddiness, or relief. I mean I danced but it also made me feel painfully self-conscious about dancing. So it mostly made me feel bad about myself. Yay.

I'm certainly ready for a theater revolution but alas Luther & Bockelson's Reformation 9 is not hosting the revolution I need. I'm angry about a lot of issues in theater today. Furious actually. And it's this fury that drives me today to write about theater. It's certainly not the glamour of the job or the perks (I'm pretty sure I'm getting deep vein thrombosis seeing this much theater).

Frustrated with structural racism and sexism in theater that feels like it is killing this art form that I love I've been on a rampage lately to push these issues to the forefront of our conversation about theater (I wish theater journalism was 80% more this and 200% less Benedict Cumberbatch). But the reform I'm interested in has to do with the voice in the room. And though L&B's format allows for a certain democratization of theater. L&B's audience, like most in the US and the UK, has a diversity problem. And unfortunately L&B's hissy fit structural/aesthetic rebellion does not address this (and honestly rebelling against form at Forest Fringe--a non-rigid, experimental space to begin with--seemed like a strange act. Maybe had this work happened in a more stuffy space the context would have made more sense and maybe my resistance would have been less). That's not the revolution "they" are looking for. And listen it doesn't have to be their revolution. But it's mine. And if we're going to tear shit up and make theater different. I'd put different ingredients in the box than L&B have chosen to use.

Also barbed wire is dangerous. Do your lawyers know you are using it?

Week Two
Trace: Lisa Heledd Jones's sound installation caused me to tear up and think about how we avoid thinking about things that hurt too much and what we lose by not remembering. Also it involves an excellent commemorative plate.

Wrecking Ball: I really liked the questioning energy around theater and audience behavior in Action Hero's show Wrecking Ball. Tearing into celebrity culture, the male gaze, and the collective participation in sexual objectification it was a playful, yet cutting approach. You feel like an unwitting accomplice in the work but that active energy (even without real audience participation) sets you on edge.

Tonight I'm Gonna Be the New Me: My review in Exeunt.  (I received a complimentary ticket).

My Son and Heir: My review in Exeunt.  (I received a complimentary ticket).

Blind Cinema: I had no business doing an early morning show that involved wearing a blindfold and having children describe the movie to you via a kind of earhorn. Oddly enough I actually liked it. It was not what I was expecting. I thought the idea was for them to tell you what they thought was happening and sort of see the movie through the child’s eyes, but a great deal of it came across as descriptive rather than interpretative. Very concrete ideas. Which is truly a child’s perspective.

The children, ages 8 to 11, were from a local primary school and rotated within the screening so you got a little sampling of different children with different visions of the movie. When the first little boy stood behind me with the blindfolds he was totally flummoxed as to what to do with two blindfolds when I happened to be sitting next to an empty seat. He needed assistance holding the earhorn up to my ear. Once we got going he whispered about images that did not quite all add up. Between his accent and the whispering I was straining a bit to hear. But strands of “archive” and “massive glass building” came through. However when he didn’t know what to do or say, he ended up just mumbling to himself “da ta da ta da.” When his part of the session was over he said “So bye…hope you enjoyed it.”

The second child, this time a girl, seemed to focus more on mood. “It’s gone all dark and it’s spooky,” she said. “Pretty scary.”She seemed a bit more imaginative with her descriptions “He looked like bigfoot.”

The last child said upon the film ending “That’s it. You made it.” A kind reassurance. Blind Cinema is highly dependent on the children involved and this was the personalized touch that made this endeavor special.

Note all shows at Forest Fringe are free but where I was reserved a ticket as press I have indicated by noting a complimentary ticket.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

I Heart Catherine Pistachio: Save Us All

Walking out of I Heart Catherine Pistachio, my first thought was “What the ever-loving fuck was that?” My second thought was, “Damn, I really didn’t want that to end.”

Lee Mattinson's unusual, twisted play swallows you whole into an R-rated world of cruel parents, lost children, and bizarre circumstances. Imagine if Roald Dahl’s The Twits were two skinny blond-wigged men dancing like convulsive ballerinas dressed as Mennonite women, you may have captured some of the unexpected, anarchic, and dark world of this piece. Who could resist the pull of such an invented landscape?

Lionel and Linda are the parents to the eponymous Catherine. And hoo-boy do they not like their young daughter. Nick Blakeley and Carl Harrison play all the characters with venomous aplomb or sugar-rush excitement as is called for—including Catherine, her parents, Saved by the Bell's Mario Lopez (natch), Catherine's grandfather, and Catherine's pets. With different accents and mannerisms it’s clear upon each shift (thanks to Jen Malarkey's deft direction) that they are someone else. However, the play is built on quicksand and even if you get your bearings the bizarro happenings will keep you on your toes.

There are no taboos that this piece does not sink its teeth into. I'd be more specific but so much came flying at me so quickly I could barely hold on as I nearly fell off my chair laughing with one act more outrageous than the next. But suffice to say attacks on the most vulnerable (children and animals) are its stock in trade. Lee Mattinson's play finds exuberance in leaning into this cruelty, like a vampire licking his lips as the blood of a tasty morsel runs down his chin. The more horrified an onlooker would be at such misbehavior, the better the evil tastes. Yet, like the rubberneckers we are we can't help but watch and want to know how far is this going to go.

Turns out, really fucking far. You’ll never see Sticky Toffee Pudding on a menu again and not think of this show and a sickening laugh may creep up on you when you do. They are committed to taking it all the way. With unexpected flashes of aggressive movement (by Simone Coxall), in the Roundabout space these performances offer us no distance. Nearly on top of the front row, the in-your-face ideas meet an in-your-face presentation, with explosive success.

With each chuckle, chortle, and guffaw we enjoy (and there are many) we become more and more a part of the fabric of the piece. We can't help ourselves. For all the jaw-dropping content it's smart, funny, and blistering. But it would not exist without our participation and our enjoyment of the worst of humanity. Because for all the extremes on display, this work is strangely grounded in totally human world--a terrible, horrible place that could exist but viewed at from a comic perspective allows us a release and more importantly introspection into our own questionable complicity. A true piece of horror permits us detachment from "evil." But through comedy we think we may have that distance only to realize it's an illusion.

We can't stop picking at the scab of this performance and it feels really good to do so. Even if you know it is wrong. There does not seem to be a lot of work that tosses out the moral compass completely and where we have the liberty to enjoy spending some time in a morbid place that no one wants to be real. Yet, we just laugh and laugh and laugh until our sides ache and our heads hurt.

Meg Vaughan called the creators of this show “Brilliant sick fucks.” No argument here. But the real power in the piece is that with every snicker of the audience we cannot separate ourselves and claim any moral high-ground. In fact, we are reveling in this deviance and so who are the sick fucks, really?