Monday, January 23, 2006

Transcendental Donkeys?

This weekend, I found myself at St. Mark's Church in the East Village, there to attend a work of the Hysterical-Ontological Theater, by the name of Zomboid! (Film/Performance Project #1).

OK. I feel I may have lost some of you. Stay with me: I promise some sports at the end of this post. This is a New York slice-of-life thing.

Backing up a moment. About two weeks ago, my wife, La Chiquita, forwards me an email from her actress friend Lian, about Zomboid. To lure us to join her in a night of experimental theater, the following promo blurb was attached:

For many years Richard Foreman has performed dense, multi-layered theater for sold out audiences. But now he risks everything!

As announced - he is departing from his normal theatrical mode and beginning a new adventure. ZOMBOID! marks the advent of a series of performances dominated by projected tableaux vivants against which live actors (and in the case of ZOMBOID!, multiple transcendental donkeys) appear and disappear.)

ZOMBOID marks the space of a new and uniquely Foreman kind of philosophically oriented performance which lives in the heretofore unfathomable territory between projected image and on-stage corporality.

As La Chiquita put it, "I don't think we can let [Foreman] down when he's risking it all on heretofore unfathomable territory." I was a little leery about transcendental donkeys, but when you live in New York, you can't really afford to be a wuss about these things.

Back at St. Mark's we're sitting in a small, packed theater waiting for Zomboid! to begin. A woman's face is projected on two of the three stage walls. The third has a rectangular hole in it, like for a crawl space. The stage is simple, but cluttered with props, most notably a huge eyeball with Hebrew characters on it...and a stuffed donkey--maybe 50% of life size, looking for all the world like a much bigger Eeyore.

I'm not much for experimental theater, overall, but what little I know I'll share with you. The most difficult thing about it is that your experimental theater troupe is actively attempting to push your buttons, make you uncomfortable, disconcert you, and just plain be weird. This makes it pretty hard to figure out, even in retrospect, whether the performance you saw is actually...good, or not.

I mean, there could be something deep and intellectual about a woman, wrapped in a carpet, singing to a stuffed donkey in a childlike voice. Or not.

The other thing about about experimental theater, is that you have to control the giggles. Some of the stuff they're saying and doing is going to sound way funnier than it's supposed to be, and if you lose it, if you start laughing, not only are you going to be labeled an experimental theater busher, you're not going to be able to actually sit through the performance. Since it's so hard to tell good experimental theater from bad experimental theater, just making it through the performance is most often your reward--it's something like climbing a mountain or completing a marathon.

So about ten minutes into Zomboid!, I figured I was doing pretty well. The live troupe is four women and one man, and in the manner of such things they're identified not by their names but by their descriptions--"Beret" for example, is Temple Crocker, dressed, goth-style all in black, but wearing a beret. They're all dressed in black, a woman in a tutu, a woman with a "neck scruff", a woman with long hair, and the guy, who's identified as "6'2" Male." They, along with the sound/video crew threw everything and the kitchen sink at us--they're buzzing along the stage with the props, only occasionally speaking, music's playing, intercut with the occasional uttered word or phrase, not always in english, sometimes from a disembodied voice, sometimes coming from one of one of the Australian-accented characters on the matching video screens.

From time to time they feel a need to flash very bright lights in our eyes. Often, one or more characters on the set or screen will be blindfolded. Nonetheless, it's all going OK.

Then it happens. A voice, using one of those distortion technologies, like a TV-movie serial killer, is e-nun-ci-a-ting words ve-ry slooooowly. It's okay, I figure I can deal with that, but then it belts out a word so simple, funny, yet predictable, that it killed me:


I held it together, but just barely. It hurt. It was so hard not to laugh, I almost cried.

I guess we all suffer for Art.


Alright, the promised baseball talk. The Red Sox are chatting up the Indians, hoping to net themselves Coco Crisp to patrol the centerfield pasture recently abandoned by Johnny Damon. The deal's still fluid--Sunday it was supposed to be a straight up swap of Crisp for Andy Marte, today it's a six-player deal, and under any circumstances it seems that the whole thing hinges on Cleveland acquiring Jason Michaels (remember when the Yanks coveted him?) for chump change.

The interesting thing about the proposed swap is how we downgrade or upgrade the abilities of players, depending on whether they're just arriving to our team, or going away. Once upon a time, talking up Damon's skills was the typical Red Sox fan's primary hobby. Now that Johnny's a Yank, Coco Crisp would make the Sox "much, much, better, this year."

Don't get me wrong--I like Coco Crisp, he's a good young player with the emphasis on "young." But if I'd suggested that Crisp was a better centerfielder than Damon (mind you, Crisp spent most of last season in left field) folks would be screaming about Yankee bias.

Not that Yankee fans are any better. To most Yankee fans, Damon wasn't the best leadoff hitter in baseball coming into this off-season. But now that he has a new haircut and pinstripes on his uni, he sure looks a lot more like Rickey Henderson to some guys. It's just the way of the world.

We'll be watching the Crisp situation, because, nothing else is going on in baseball right now.

On a different note, we can all sleep safer now that Rocco Graziosa is serving the rest of his misdemeanor sentence for sucker-punching David Wells. Right now, there's a bit of worry about star athletes receiving preferential treatment in the Courts, particularly in light of some very sympathetic (and rightfully so) press that former reliever Jeff Reardon is receiving in the wake of his bizarre jewelry store robbery last month.

It's hard to imagine Reardon going to jail in light of the relatively recent tragedy of his son's death, and the seemingly-obvious craziness of his actions. At the same time, you have to ask if a less well-known thief would get a pass just because he's had some real hard times, and has been taking prescription drugs. Indeed, drug-using, mentally disturbed petty thieves typically get some very harsh treatment in the American justice system.

Not arguing, just wondering.

Back to Rocco, usually I'd be wondering about his incident with Wells, the possibility of David's fame and relative popularity (at the time) in New York tainting the judicial process. But then I remember Rocco hamming it up for the cameras outside of the courthouse during his trial. And then I read that our pal Rocco's on probation for feeling up an unconscious 21 year old on New Year's Eve...and I don't really worry so much about the scales of justice, for him. He had a jury, and an Appellate Term panel, and now he has a jail cell.

That's pretty much as it should be.


Nick from Washington Heights said...

My god! Recognition! My girlfriend also lured me to a Richard Foreman play (that's probably not the right word to describe it) last year. Luckily it was billed as comical satire, so I could afford to do all the laughing I wanted to. The problem was I kept on not laughing at the parts the veteran experimental theatre audience was laughing at, and laughing at the parts they weren't laughing at. Also, I have a somewhat embarrassing laugh. It ranges from a hearty Wall Street financier cock of the walk laugh to a high pitched squeal. Needless to say the whole repertoire was on display. And people noticed, but I'm hoping maybe they think I was part of the piece.

DJ said...

Were you wearing black? :)

Man, I'm so happy that the rest of the people in the audience didn't periodically start laughing--I'd a been a neurotic mess if they had. Still, I'm pretty sure that there was humor in the piece, even if none of the overly-serious looking art connoiseurs cracked a smile during the entire hour plus presentation.

I mean, when someone slams a stuffed donkey to the floor, and then says (in a Russian accent) "Stay here...donkey." That has to be a laugh line, right?

Anonymous said...

you dorks, of course richard foremans plays are supposed to be funny. get your heads out of your "asses".

now baseball, THATS boring.


DJ said...

The funny thing, "ric," is that neither Nick nor I said that Foreman's work was "boring." I enjoyed Zomboid, and will probably go to next year's piece, if I have the opportunity.

This will be despite the fact that some of Foreman's fans, like you, seem to be humorless "jackasses."