Monthly Archives: January 2012

Wit at the Samuel J Friedman Theater (Broadway; Manhattan Theater Club)

Margaret Edson’s 1998 play Wit (or, for the Mega Nerds, W;t), is a terribly important piece of theater. Edson, #1 Baller as far as I’m concerned, wrote the play, won a Pulitzer, and then quietly went back to her life teaching 6th grade – a job she still holds today. As we say in the Bear Apartment: “CASUAL.” The play, about a brilliant professor specializing in the poetry of John Donne who, oh yeah, also happens to be dying of stage 4 ovarian cancer, is moving and deep, and is performed everywhere, has won a billion awards, is often shown to med students as a part of their clinical education, was made into an amazing TV movie directed by Mike Nichols and starring Emma Thompson in 2001 (this one), and pretty much rules.  Much can and should be said on it.

But, I’m not going to go there at all.

Instead, I am going to take a moment to have a huge bitch fest.

Broadway, man.

Freaking Broadway.

I have had the great privilege of having spent a lot of my childhood living in the tri-state area (and thats NY/NJ/CT, you philly-fools), with a family that had a healthy interest in Culture, and thus have very exciting memories of getting to see Broadway shows on birthdays and special occasions. A trip into The City meant a fancy, kinda boring dinner followed by a blur of spectacle, bright lights, loud, catchy music and other delights. For most of my youth, Broadway was the epitome of everything wonderful, exciting, and perfect about theater. Spectacle – and I mean, bright lights, great costumes, Beautiful People and Big Sets Spectacle – is disarmingly appealing, especially if you’re a kid who happens to love melodrama (that was me, crying at SPCA commercials from a young age…one of my many paradoxes if you remember my  previous rant on maudlin crap).

It wasn’t until I went to college and, primarily through the Philly theater scene, and then, in France, at the Avignon Theater Festival, that I realized theater could be so, so very different from the bright lights and smiles of the The Great White Way. A realization I came to embarrassingly late, I know, especially given my subsequent devotion to theater in general. It took a few years of great theater of all kinds: poor, political, small, urgent, experimental, weird, quiet, loud, etc., to realize that the form was so, so, delightfully big.

I saw an 8 hour play in the South of France where, four hours in, the cast left the stage, changed into their day clothes, and took an hour to serve us dinner. I saw a 45 minute monologue delivered on a darkened rooftop by a man with only a spotlight on his face. I saw this, this, and this. While this is starting to read like a laundry list of Brags No One Else Cares About, it’s not meant to be. It’s simply meant to say that, since falling in love with theater, I’ve sought out a lot of stuff – and in many cases, a lot of WEIRD stuff.

Trips back to NYC (and now, living here), has meant the occasional chance to see a Broadway show again, and re-visiting my childhood dream theaters is definitely a different experience. It’s not the shows themselves that strike me in a different way – now, I see them at one (admittedly important) end of a Commercial — Nonprofit spectrum.  And lets be real, like all theater, some Broadway is terrible and tedious while other Broadway can be profound and thrilling. No, it’s not that the shows are suddenly a disappointment. It’s the audience.

The motherfucking Broadway audience.

I try not to be The Worst, The Most Pretentious, The Most Snobby…and sometimes I succeed. I certainly berate myself when I feel like I don’t, if it’s any consolation to you judgers out there. I know I have a tendency towards it — let’s face it, going to a Liberal Arts school wherein I wrote my thesis on French Feminist Theater probably doomed me forever to a life of pretension, but I feel like being aware of the danger of pretentiousness often saves me from the worst of it. But something about going to a motherfucking Broadway show and being surrounded by that motherfucking Broadway audience brings out the absolute worst in me. There is some crossover between a Broadway audience and the audience of, erm, every other theater in the country/world. But not damn much. Let’s face it – Broadway is a commercial venture. It’s a tourist attraction. It’s a Commodity in the strictest sense, and while that doesn’t doom it to eternal tediousness, it does ensure a specific type of crowd.

yup. that's the thing i'm talking about.

Tickets to Broadway shows are expensive. Atrociously so. I know the economics aren’t so cut-and-dry, and I would never presume to turn this into anything as simple as a “Make Our Art Accessible” rant — that’s not really Broadway’s purpose. There’s great, small, accessible non profit theater for that – although, admittedly, a lot less than in other countries. I know the point of Broadway is to make money, but somehow that doesn’t quite take the sting out of the new-ish concept of Premium Seats — wherein a theater blocks off the first few rows of the house and charges $300 and up a ticket — because, you know, $120 – $180 a ticket just isn’t QUITE enough.

There are solutions, of course – many theaters offer student rush and lotteries, and TDF (theater development fund – those lovely folks that run the TKTS booth), has a GREAT membership service open to students, teachers, and union members that is pretty much the only reason I can afford any Broadway these days ($30 – $40 tickets to a LOT of shows…seriously JOIN if you’re eligible and interested).

However, despite all of these solutions, the barrier to entry for Broadway is fucking high. And, like so much else in our fantastic, capitalist culture (no no, not about to start a rant on capitalism, don’t worry), it ensures that the bulk of Broadway theater goers are of a certain Type.

My friends who have been to shows with me have already heard this rant, and since the likelihood is that they’re the only people actually reading this, it’s probably a moot story to re-tell. But I’m going to go for it anyway and describe one stupid thing that drives me 100% INSANE.

As anyone who’s ever walked through the theater district knows, about a half an hour before a show starts, a line of patrons forms. This is the line for people waiting to enter the theater — most of the houses in broadway shows have 500 seats, and many have more, so there’s a bottlenecking that will inevitably occur when trying to get 500 people through 3 normal sized doorways into their 500 seats. That is physics, people. There is no other way to fill a Broadway house with FIVE HUNDRED seats than to have the audience line up, wait their turn, and have their tickets checked by ushers as they go through the THREE DOORWAYS into the theater.

And yet, AND YET, a guarantee at literally every show I’ve ever been to is the following:

Situation – I am standing on line. It is a half an hour before the show. Like a reasonable human being, I am waiting my turn to get into the theater.

A person – usually a woman, usually wearing fur, usually from the suburbs – arrives behind me. She looks first quizzically, then with rising annoyance, at the line. She looks pointedly at her ticket. She looks around to see if anyone has noticed that She Has A Ticket. No one takes the bait. So she asks, to the universe, I suppose, “Is this the line for people with tickets?”

And I sigh, and I turn, and I say something along the lines of “Yup”. The level of bitchiness in my voice varies proportionately to the amount of patience I have that day. She looks at me, disappointed. Then back at her ticket. She can’t believe it. So she asks again, “But what if you have a ticket??”

At which point, I have to disengage, so I smile politely and turn around. So she appeals to her friends, or others on line. Those as privileged as she can’t stomach that they have to wait on line, either. General frustration is emerging — she has paid Good Money for this ticket, so some part of her can’t quite believe that she could be made to suffer the indignity of waiting on a line. (AND YET: see my rant about physics, above).

Finally, she sighs, disappointed in me and those around her who have not pointed out the Secret Entrance for those folks Rich Enough To Never Have To Wait On Line, and announces with much affected, world weariness that she is going to “go check”.

She leaves.

She returns.

She has been told it is, indeed, the line for people who have tickets.

And her disappointment is palpable.

If you couldn’t already tell, this maddens me. I find it also epitomizes perfectly everything about the Broadway audience that drives me nuts. There is such an expectation among the audience — (and a very small part of me can’t blame them, knowing as I do how much freaking money they’ve shelled out for the show) — for the theater to perfectly meet their expectations in every way possible. But that’s not theater. It’s just not. Theater should never meet your expectations – it should subvert them, surprise them, delight them…but “meeting” them is too small potatoes. And the success of one’s theater-going experience should certainly, certainly not depend on the amount of time one was made to suffer the indignity of waiting on a line.

I could keep going – about the people who Laugh To Show Everyone Else That They GET Something, the old men who fall asleep, the ladies who loudly whisper questions to each other and spend intermission making the bulshittiest judgements possible but at this point I’m driving MYSELF crazy with my ranting.

Cynthia Nixon does NOT want to hear your cell phone go off

Plus, I feel as though I’ve done Cynthia a disservice by titling a post about the play in which she stars and then completely ignoring it in favor of a rant. My conclusion, then, is this: I wish a lot of things for American theater, but one of the things I wish most fervently is that people supported ALL of it with the vigor and enthusiasm that they support SOME of it. I wish that people stopped equating high ticket prices with Absolute Satisfaction of the Theatrical Wants They Shouldn’t Have. And I wish that I was a better person and could appreciate when Broadway is great and didn’t let my judgmental-yness of my fellows get in the way. And of course, I wish that great stuff, like Wit, was accessible to absolutely everyone who wants to see it. If you’re a member of tdf, you can get $37 tickets (as of this morning, at least), which is pretty great considering what Broadway goes for these days. But of course, that’s still not doable for some. And that’s bullshit. Because (and here I go, despite my promise, above, otherwise…I literally can’t help it)… Great Art should be universally accessible.

Anyway, 1800 words later: Wit itself was great. Plays about Cancer are a terrifying proposition, if you ask me, but Edson’s is tight, digestible, riveting, and at times quite profound. Cynthia Nixon, who is SO MUCH MORE BADASS than her Sex and The City fame (she’s done a million awesome theatrical things, and her stage presence is phenomenal), absolutely kills it in this performance. She plays Vivian Bearing, a prominent John Donne academic who is dying of ovarian cancer — as she announces at the top of the play, she’s been given “two hours” to live. It’s should be no surprise, then, when she dies at the play’s end – and yet, for two hours, we’ve lived and breathed with this woman, with this refreshingly unsentimental woman, as she’s suffered the indignities brought on by medical deaths in this day and age – the clinicism, the fear, the sterility.

Cynthia Nixon, killin' it

The play was awesome. It was stunning. She was incredible. And yet.

And yet.

All I can think about – still – is the motherfucking Broadway audience. God, I’m sorry. I really thought I’d gotten it out my system earlier. I don’t know what it is, but unlike with the massive, stand-up-in-your-seats blockbusters like Wicked or Book of Mormon, Wit just. doesn’t. quite. feel like it belonged on the Broadway stage. Maybe it’s the commodification aspect that Broadway can’t help but impart — the play should be small, intimate, personal — its through its intimacy, I believe, that it delivers its epicness. Nixon’s performance – especially towards the end, when her character is truly losing her personhood to the pain and physical destruction of the cancer – just felt like it deserved a smaller house. It felt like an experience to be shared among a quiet, awestruck audience of 40 or 50. The audience was too big, and Nixon was too small – the point, maybe? – but still, watching her from something of a distance over the heads of hundreds of shifting, sleeping, texting people, or, Laughing Loudly at Anything at All People, felt gross. Disrespectful.

Betcha didn't think this woman could make you care about 17th C. metaphysical poetry...

I dunno. Maybe, like those fur-dressed ladies, I too have my own bullshit expectations of what a Broadway Show should be. But whereas they expect Secret Entrances, my expectations run more towards the level of spectacle/depth I think the mother-f-ing broadway audience deserves.

Listen. I never said I wasn’t a pretentious fuck.

(**An important PS Sidebar: I am from New York. I say “On line”. It does not mean “online”. It means, for those of you from other parts of the country, “in line”. I considered writing 2200 words ranting about this particular turn of phrase, and the way it has ostracized me throughout the years, but I figured I’d spare you.)

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Follies at the Marquis Theater (Broadway)

even the poster is crazy-beautiful

Alright, get ready to sweep the floor around you, because I’m about to drop some names:

Bernadette Peters, Jan Maxwell, Danny Burstein, Ron Raines, Elaine Paige. And OH YEAH, Stephen Sondheim.

If these names mean nothing to you: don’t worry about it. You’re at home on your computer reading a blog: you got no one to impress.

If these names mean something to you and you’re aware that they’ve all congregated in the Broadway revival of Follies, then uhm, yeah…it was everything you’d imagine.

If these names mean something to you but you’re somehow, incredibly, bizarrely, under-a-rock-ly unaware of the show they currently all have in common, then RUN, don’t walk, (or perhaps, fly…) to L.A., where the revival is moving right about now.

Continuing in my trend of reviewing theater productions that are really, ridiculously close to closing/have already closed, JUST to ensure that if anyone is ACTUALLY reading this and ACTUALLY decides to see one of these shows, they can’t…let’s go with Follies, which closed in NYC on Jan 22nd. The show is a Sondheim classic, with dozens of fantastic parts for “mature” actresses, and this production, which features the talents of the list above along with another whole horde of crazy-talented folks, was pretty much guaranteed to succeed from the day Bernadette signed on the dotted line. (http://folliesbroadway.com/company/cast) Add to that one gorgeous design and crowd-pleasing choreography and you’ve got yourself a hit…ironic if you know anything about the plot.

…cue me talking about the plot! (TRANSITIONS, people…that’s how you do it). Follies is set in a crumbling theater, just about to be closed after a long and successful life, in good ol’ 1971. The theater’s owner is throwing one last party, to which he has invited a host of former performers – Follies Girls, as it were – to celebrate Times That Once Were and all sorts of other good, nostalgia-inducing things guaranteed to make for drama. Among the guests are Sally and Buddy and Phyllis and Ben, two couples/former friends who…you guessed it, spend the evening bemoaning Pairings That Might Have Been or, alternately, glaring at each other with venomous jealousy over Pairings That Might Have Been. Basically, it’s a recipe for drama both quiet and loud, regrets and lost hopes, and something of a meditation on the public vs. private and real vs. performance. Throw in a few showstopping songs and you have everything that a night on Broadway should be – beautiful, sad, powerful, and epic. And on a Broadway Budget, no less.

...cue the standing ovations and Tony award nominations...

The most insane (ly awesome) moment in the show is, without a doubt, during an epic Sally/Buddy/Phyllis/Ben fight, where not only do the four begin yelling over each other, their Past Selves (also characters in the musical, used to great effect) join the fray as well. They step downstage, and a curtain lowers discreetly behind them. As the fight reaches a climax – and the shouting becomes almost inaudible in its chaos – the curtain tumbles, revealing the old stage, which had appeared as merely a musky old theater, to be completely transformed into the height of spectacle – layers of bright, gauzey flats dominate, and dozens of performers, dressed in showy regalia, begin singing of their show, the former Follies show – Loveland – to the bemusement of the lovers. The characters’ anguish is quickly overpowered by performative fluff, leaving them – and us in the audience – in a state of stilted confusion.

Now, here’s the thing about me: I’m kinda easily embarrassed by overly flowery shows of … well, anything: romance, spectacle, melodrama, etc. Everytime I’m witness to a public proposal I tend to cringe, and not out of adoration (good god: the jumbotrons at sporting events?!) When I was a little kid and was given a piece of clothing with a bow on it I pretty much threw a temper tantrum (and at the very least, immediately pulled the offensive bow off). Once, a very long time ago, a wonderful boy wrote me a love poem and instead of being flattered and feeling ooey gooey, I, like a big fat jerk, pretty much buried it under a rock and hoped it would disappear without a trace. In fact, my stomach is cramping in embarrassment just thinking about it now. People who sing love songs to their partners are, to me, some of the scariest mo-fos alive. There are many reasons why watching The Bachelor/The Bachelorette makes me want to kill myself, but the public displays of Relationship therein are certainly among them. (The private concerts? The fireworks? The inevitable Expensive Car Date where a confused crowd gathers to watch Love being found in a Rolls Royce parked awkwardly in front of a fountain or some bullshit?!!)

How does this relate to Follies? Well, the “show-within-a-show” that dominates the 2nd act of the play is essentially the physical embodiment of everything I just expressed feeling great embarrassment for. It’s a RIDICULOUS freaking show-within-a-show. Fucking Liberace would have been embarrassed. Like, I know it was written decades ago, and I know it was fictional, but would anyone in their right mind really go see a show called Loveland??? Loveland, people. It sounds like one of those Tunnel Of Love Carnival rides with midgets in diapers pretending to be cupids. To repeat: I’d rather kill myself.

So even though it was entirely fictional, and even though the rest of the show was beautiful and much simpler and quite stunning, I still found myself squirming uncomfortably during this one, the show-within-a-show with the Title That Must Not Be Named. Now God knows I love glitter, but there was a lot of it. And God knows I love feathers, but there was a lot of that, too. And God knows I love pink, but it was an excess of pink. And GOD KNOWS I love super hot men in tights wearing old fashioned sparkly British Dowager hats, but…man. was it. a lot. Not to mention the fact that the song, “Loveland”, that introduces the sequence is populated by characters named First, Second, Third, and Fourth Cavalier, and features such marvelous lyrics as:

“Time stops, hearts are young,
Only serenades are sung,
In Loveland,
Where everybody lives to love.
Raindrops never rain,
Every road is Lovers’ Lane,
In Loveland,
Where everybody loves to live,”

and a chorus of

“Loveland, Loveland…Bells ring, fountains splash,
Folks use kisses ‘stead of cash”.

Just in case you don’t have the full visual yet, it looked like this:

lots. of things. are happening. here.

I won’t lie: I had a Moment. Generally, at such moments, I immediately panic, look for a bridge to throw myself off of or some cashews to ingest (nut allergy, for those of you who don’t get the reference), then think of whatever poor schmo I am seeing the show with, and wonder in fear whether he/she is also embarrassed, and then start feeling doubly embarrassed at the fear that he or she is also feeling embarrassed, and then…well, you get it. It’s a vicious cycle.

Fortunately, in my case, my date for the evening was a solidly good sport, and, as far as I’m aware, solidly loving the spectacle. And, as I looked around the audience, (or, alternately, listened to the coos of the gentlemen behind me, who were Seriously Loving It), I realized that no one in the theater seemed to give as much of a crap as I did about the ridiculousness. The pomp. The circumstance. Things that could be described as “dandy” and “gay”.

And of course, the ridiculousness is the whole point – it’s about the juxtaposition of over-the-top spectacle and imposed performance on the genuine emotion of the performers/former performers. The lyrics to “Loveland” are supposed to ring hollow – I mean, come on, Sondheim is the guy who brought us Sweeney Todd, for shit’s sake. He’s not likely to approve of a man in snow white tights singing about a “sunny honeymoon” where “seven hundred days hath June” (woah, just threw up in my mouth a little there), unless used for dramatic/ironic impact. And in fact, a few songs later, when Bernadette brought the house down with “Losing My Mind” and the stupendous Jan Maxwell killed it with “The Story of Lucy and Jessie”, I realized that fucking killer talent can always trump ridiculous 70s kitsch. And even a cynical bastard like me can’t help but be dazzled by so many sequins. (Nauseated, yes, but also dazzled through my nausea).

Never kitschy and embarrassing, of course, is the cast, who smile through their cray-cray costumes and destroy with their performances. Danny Burstein, for one, gets a special shout out from me for being the absolute master of Angry Outbursts. (Back in the good ol’ days, I considered myself something of a veteran at Angry Acting Outbursts, so I have a particular soft spot in my heart for performers talented in the like). Overall, the show is seriously a stunner, in every sense of the word, and the cast of Broadway vets ensures that at no point does their incredible talent go unnoticed.

…but still the awkward, perpetually embarrassed freak in me has to wonder, did they have to use SO many pink feathers?

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Untitled Feminist Show at Baryshnikov Arts Center (Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company)

Some genius once said that it’s not experimental theater if you’re not feeling at least a little desperately uncomfortable. Full disclosure: that “genius” was actually just me, but the statement, while slightly reductionist, effectively communicates what I find most titillating – and terrifying – about the more avant-garde productions that I see.

Terms like “experimental” and “avant garde” get thrown around a lot. Like most theater-goers, I’m not entirely sure of the precise definition of either, but would be loathe to fully cop to that fact. However, I think at their best, such productions are unique, surprising, and a little scary.  They push the boundaries of theatricality in exciting ways. At their worst, however, they are pointless spectacle that verges on the unnecessarily lewd. They quite literally create their own parodies, and are the reason theater is branded pretentious, elitist and inaccessible.

Essentially, it’s hit or miss.

However, I’m as easy a target as the next girl, so when you tell me of a feminist theater show featuring 6 naked performers, uhm…I’m in. And that is how I found myself, just last week, part of the sold-out audience at opening night of the New York premiere of Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company’s Untitled Feminist Show at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. (phew! That’s a mouthful!)

[Another full disclosure: Basically, if a show has the word “feminist” anywhere near it’s title/description, I’m pretty much predisposed to love it, but I attempted to maintain an open mind for the sake of, oh…let’s say… journalistic integrity.]

According to its website, in Untitled Feminist Show: “six charismatic stars of the downtown theater, dance, cabaret, and burlesque worlds come together to invite the audience on an exhilarating, nearly wordless journey through expressions of a fluid and limitless sense of identity.” Which, had I really been paying attention, has a few serious gives that would have let me know what I was in for — see, “wordless” and “fluid”.

As in: dance. Yep, dance.

Now, quick word on my relationship with dance: I have none. Beyond a very traumatic winter-long course in Ballroom Dance in elementary school (what 5th grader wants to be told that the evening is “ladies choice”??! My choice of partners was quite literally limited to a series of bros who had inevitably flashed their boogers at me the day before), I have never attempted the art form myself. Maybe it’s my own complete and utter lack of rhythm, but I really – REALLY – struggle to make heads or tales of dance. Watching gorgeous people spin around in tandem, while aesthetically pleasing, doesn’t make me “feel” much beyond envious and befuddled. And while I hate to use the “b” word – sacrilegious, as far as I’m concerned, when it comes to the arts – with dance, I can easily get (yikes)…bored.

It didn’t take long for me to suspect/fear that, beyond the initial shock of 6 naked performers, Untitled Feminist Show is more straightforward dance concert than avant-garde play. In fact, the show, which runs a gaunt 55 minutes, felt at first like a dance recital, broken up by songs, where various permutations of the 6 dancers would writhe and gyrate and spin and do all those dance-y things that lovers of dance are much more poised to appreciate than uncoordinated duds like me.

However, simply and totally because of its spectacle of nakedness (and probably also, because the 6 performers in question are possessed of, although it pains me to say it, “normal”(??) bodies), Untitled Feminist Show will forever enjoy the designation of “avant garde” and “experimental”.

Now, a word on the nakedness: my fear with this kind of stuff is that it never rises above the level of “gimmick”, and although I spent a bit of time inwardly giggling behind my hand at the sight of boobies, I’ll admit that ultimately it did exactly what I imagine it was trying to – it was aggressive, confrontational, disconcerting and unabashedly beautiful.

it's EXPERIMENTAL cuz they're NAKED

But, of course, nakedness alone does not make an avant garde play. Although I spent the first 10 minutes or so of the show feeling victimized by a cruel bait-and-switch (promised: cool experimental theater, delivered: mostly conventional dance), I must now cop to being pretty darn wrong. Yes, the performance style of the show was much dancier than narrative-ier (official theater terms, by the way), but once I got my head out of my ass and stopped mentally bitching about it, it turns out that Young Jean Lee was actually saying things that even an idiot like me could digest. Yes, some of the dances went waaaaay over my head, and I recall them now only as a blur of spinning and pirouettes (not totally sure what those are, but they sound dance-y…). There are clear highlights, though.

One, about halfway through the show, involved the dancers, who made copious eye contact and often smiled warmly at us, the Super-Eager-To-Prove-How-Comfortable-We-Were-With-Nakedness audience, beginning a series of synchronized choreographed moves that, when I actually studied them, turned out to be inspired by/based on a series of traditionally “female” activities – ironing, weaning babies, cooking, cleaning, etc. Done to some sort of agonizingly awesome hip-hop song, by dancers who performed their choreography with such mother-fucking coolness, it essentially took my breath away. To me, this was reappropriation at its absolute best.

Another memorable scene, and one of the piece’s few obvious non dance-y bits, involved a single performer, who started what I can only call “militant flirtation” with certain male audience members – pointing one out and miming sexually suggestive behaviors re: said audience member’s penis, which quickly became sexually grotesque and violent suggestions.  I watched this, growing increasingly more uncomfortable along with the rest of the audience, who tended to display its discomfort by laughing more loudly and obviously. It was an interesting moment – god knows, anytime the house lights go up in a show like this EVERY audience member feels a pang of dread in his or her heart of hearts. In this case, the moment was made all-the-more unnerving by the proximity of the performer, her nakedness, and the creepy way she smiled while miming sticking her hand up an audience member’s you-know-what. The group of men in front of me were laughing so loud and with such false heartiness at this point that I really wanted to take their hands and tell them to take a deep, cleansing breath: it was going to be OK.

The “point”, from the performer’s perspective, seemed to force our discomfort as quickly and urgently as possible – the kind of shameless confrontation feminism does so well/terribly (depending on your perspective). In this case, though, the audience, which seemed to be entirely filled with theater insiders and Enlightened, Artsy Folk, responded uniquely. It was one of the stranger confrontations I’ve ever witnessed: rather than sit back and take our misogynist spanking, this audience (which perhaps wanted more credit for having found, sought out, and Behaved Completely Properly during the strange, naked show), was more-or-less unwilling to suffer such punishment. Instead, the chorus of self-aware laughter was as much a retaliation as I’ve ever heard – a vehement insistence to the performer that We Were In On It Too. Ultimately, it was a stand off: one that was one-part uncomfortable, one-part exciting, and one-part confusing: in other words, everything I could have asked for from an Avant Garde show.

There were other moments like this, too – during the show’s climax, wherein the dancers began shaking and jiggling their bodies to pounding techno music, basically shoving gyrating boobs and bellies in the faces of the closer audience members (I was not among them), the audience burst into a spontaneous round of enthusiastic applause (we were determined to get an A+ on Audiencing, it seemed). It was infectiously thrilling to be surrounded by such approval of such a primitive, aggressive confrontation with the female body.

Untitled Feminist Show was a lot of things at once: sometimes embarrassing, sometimes boring, sometimes scary, sometimes profound, sometimes ridiculous and always surprising. When it comes to Avant Garde, you really can’t ask for anything else. (Well….whatever “avant garde” means, anyway…) If you want to get your naked dancing on (that’s a lie, those of you who are stripping and running for the door — only the performers are naked in this one, I’m afraid)…run, don’t walk to the Baryshnikov Arts Center – the show only runs thru Feb. 4th.

http://www.ps122.org/performances/untitled_feminist_show.html

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