Wednesday, January 21, 2009

In Case You Missed It Last Week: A Poets Theater Report from Brandon Brown

Ah, Poets Theater at Small Press Traffic. There’s really nothing like it, socially or otherwise, that happens in the Bay Area all year. The first clues and cues a sudden decrease in social availability on weeknights, given over to rehearsal, and before you know it it’s opening night in Timkin, the room afroth with strange (and beautiful, don’t worry) faces, more of them than usual, and a buzz that this commentator found a little overstimulating. What makes Poets Theater (Alli reminded me: no apostrophe) different from regular Theater? Ostensibly the plays (such as they are) are written by poets (but this isn’t hard and fast) and played by poets (though this is even less hard and fast). What seems to me to be the fundamental difference is that the adding of POETS to THEATER entails a redrawing of the rules of the spectacle. Fourth wall? Why yes, please, and I’m working on my fifth. And before the spectacle can even commence onstage, it’s buzzing outside the doors. Players are vacillating between the theater and the crowd, half in costume half out, sometimes wielding un- or semiwieldy props; small camps might be crouching on their haunches for one last, desperate rehearsal, or just as likely passing a flask in the dim hallway behind the stage (just kidding, no drinks in Timkin!). I suppose what I suggest by this is that the performance starts as soon as you break the seal that leads to the hall, and this was overscored by David Buuck’s amazing vaudeville introduction, sung to a recorded track on his IPOD, even as he wore Joy Division eyeliner and did his best Fred Astaire.

The program on Opening Night 2009 was pretty representative of Poets Theaters past. You had your world premieres written by contemporary extra-Bay Area poets with strong Bay Area ties (Stan Apps’ Elsa In Berlin, Bhanu Kapil’s Rabbit Butoh, Bunny Butoh), your local talent new to PT (Tetra Balestri’s Perverted Virtue), your veteran PT alumna (Wendy Kramer’s Trademark Girls), and the reprise of neglected Russian avant garde plays translated by Matvei Yankelevich (er…three short plays by Danii Kharms).

If there was any trope common to this very diverse program of plays, it might be the (very broad) one of desire thwarted by the interference of an other (the Spinozan definition of jealousy—a comment on poets writing poets theater?). But specifically for the plays Friday, the interfering other often took the form of a more or less arbitrary orneriness rather than a hubristic challenge or fatalistic intervention. Take Elsa in Elsa In Berlin, a role brilliantly delivered by Erika Staiti. Victor Shlovsky loves Elsa, and sends her the “genius” but overtly insulting “love letters” to prove it—the crisis in the play is not the one you might expect, according to Aristotelian categories, that Elsa fails to recognize the genius of Shlovksy, thereby spurning him for a lesser intelligence. Rather, Elsa recognizes Shlovsky’s genius perfectly—and this becomes the reason for her disavowal. Aristotle’s like WTF? Similar interferences are run by the steroid-dealing, mouse-befriending housewife in Perverted Virtue, the medical stenographer or perhaps the Pepsi machine in Rabbit Butoh, Gogol and Pushkin in Kharms—if such a blatant figure fails to appear in Trademark Girls, let that not imply that the desires of the trademark girls are fulfilled necessarily (though their story might be the most redemptive of the night, and thus served as an appropriate closer).

If the plays express frustrated desire, the activities at the intermission express frustration’s opposite. For there not only could one drink plentifully, for free, but Lindsey Boldt’s Human Jukebox provided song, my Dessert Storm provided dessert, raffles provided prizes, and I leave it other commenters to chime in on Lara Durback and Ariel Goldberg’s intermezzo performances as I was occupied sweetening cream and whipping it with air, thus creating a colloid roughly doubly the volume of the original cream, as air bubbles are captured in a network of fat droplets.

To close, I would like to start a partial list of the terrific outfits everyone was wearing and impart some miscellaneous highlights.

The outfit list is necessarily partial, as there were so many well-dressed strangers to me, and also I had like a thousand drinks and can’t possibly recall what, say…okay, to be honest I can’t remember what anyone was wearing except for Stephanie Young’s amazing boots and Alli Warren was wearing suspenders, Erika Staiti was in drag, Brent Cunningham was in a salmon blazer that I loaned him a year ago and need to recover, Brent, just so you know, Lara Durback was in drag, Stan Apps was wearing his “Bill Luoma” shirt, Bill Luoma was wearing his “Stan Apps” shirt, just kidding, he was wearing his candy color blazer, David Buuck was wearing eyeliner, Taylor Brady was wearing an Executive Director blazer and then became Lil Debbie, Rob Halpern was wearing clothes for a while.

Miscellaneous highlights: Sasha Berkman Tupac Spahr is a born Poets Theater participant, and also his outfit was spectacular. Massive rabbit head on Lara Durback’s neck during Bunny Butoh and then in people’s hands and arms for photo taking. Fake blood. Stas Feldman emerging from a bed in Elsa in Berlin. Oh, and at the end we all threw our shoes at David Buuck.

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