Friday, January 30, 2009

In Case You Missed It: A reading report from Ariel Goldberg

A Mummer's Play, by Vanessa Place, directed by Yedda Morrison, was perhaps the funniest play of the night with extravagant gender baffling costumes accessorized with plastic toy sword knives that must have been hoarded, with incredibly foresight back in October 0h eight from the Halloween superstore. A theme of all the plays though, thanks to the aura of PoetsTheater as a place to see your friends or friend's friends on stage or seeing, forgivable via charm, scripts in actor's hands, I enjoyed a clear recognition of the audience by the actors. This wall between performer and viewer that the pros build so stoically and only destabilize in the most post modern moments was virtually mocked when Samantha Giles as actor, not ED, turned away from her fellow actors to wave to the audience in her grand entrance as an honest to be your swindler doctor. The actors in a Mummer's Play, when "offstage," walked in some creepy circle ritual, as if to tell the spotlight, I can hear you over there so don't talk smack too loud now. The plot thickened accordingly with duels and teeth pulling, mutually exclusive. When the hollow Chinese weaponry got a little bulky, all-star player of the Poets Theater, Jocelyn Saidenberg initiated a pencil fight, complete with a strobe light. Writers got fiest! Cinematically hailing the kid scissor aesthetic of sprouting tree dioramas meets pillory for some minor offense, Jocelyn's head inside a tree and fake money being exchanged, or was it real money, was a most pleasing ending. Apologies for more plot details being excluded. The visuals were too intoxicating.

The News from Zimbabwe: a re-enactment, "conducted" by David Buuck brought not only the events of playwrights tortured in Zimbabwe in 2007 to our San Francisco consciousness, but challenged the role of citizen as spectator. How does censorship and torture happen I often wonder, however decontextualized? Why, by the participation of the audience as non participators, of course. Buuck casted the audience as the lead of this play, under the influence of our lights out look forward to the stage costume, rendering our predictable passivity, individually, greatly disturbing. What would have happened if I, unplanted, ripped off the duct tape from Buuck's stomach before he was scheduled to bow? It would have looked planted. Unlike the distance the perpetrators of torture rationalize, with the "I was just following orders" explanation, as the Abu Ghraib photos continue to loom over this warring superpower I share a nationality with, this play took people we recognize, it took our local artists and put them into the task of horrific events, of too many plays within plays. Buuck’s knee jerk joke at the U.S. of repetition of "Mugabe, Zimbabwe" (it's Harare, stupid Americans, not the 29 year and counting president). Or can we put people as place names? And then say something? For the board of Dateline producers and the routine of a new staff member walking into the room to repeat the script of "following orders" resulted in escalated abuse onto the Poets Theater organizer, by far the most haunting pivotal role in this piece were the narrator, Lara Durback. She was positioned center stage as gatekeeper between the News media evil doers drinking their booze and the caged playwrights. Durback stood over kitchen appliances like a Martha Rosler reincarnate, hailing semiotics of the kitchen ( as a model for the execution of our everyday objects as having potential harmful uses. Durback condoned the torture repeatedly with "I don't see anyone stopping you." I was struck with how Buuck's piece helped me understand the hot in the art world re-enactor Mark Tribe who says the goal of his re-staging of famous protest speeches is to point out "how much has changed, yet how much has stayed the same." Tribe hires actors to create replicas. After volunteering as a (film) photographer for his Loretta Scott King speech, he asked me if I think he should get more famous people do the re-enactments. I was baffled at the time. Because Tribe's crowds don't have a personal connection, either with a local arts community or with the actors themselves, it seems he is barely attacking the passivity we as audience members are capable of. Buuck was not afraid to do this.

We were back from intermission with Flow — Winged Crocodile by Leslie Scalapino, where stepping up on low to the ground furniture to rub rhino dung off balanced out palpable lines of poetry. The Patty Hearst character seemed to mock the hyphenated air pauses of Scalapino's verse with a blow up gun only blowing away the tilt of her beret. The minimal activity on the stage made every gesture powerful, particularly the slow-it-down-running man movements of M. Mara-Ann, whose somersault, in full bubble wrap, was hilarious.

Coming to the end of the night, I was thinking: What's more funny in Poets Theater, when an actor laughs on stage or the play executes a joke, literally written into the script? Only the Money is Real, by Raymond Pettibon and directed by Kevin Killian had plenty of put on your making fun of art school hat jokes. Monet got confused with Manet in the cloud of a faux joint and gays were the real playas, as the womanizing hetero professor laments. The backdrop at the beginning, middle and end of this play's first act debut were Pettibon drawings that set some mysterious linking at work. How does one manage a cross-genre regiment? Much needed playfulness set up dialogues between business and art, the authority of academics, and the farce of authenticating artwork. Suzanne Stein gave a vigorous defense of Joyce Carol Oates at folding chair dinner table of rich people before throwing down her napkin. She was the only cast member graced with a napkin to throw. Dodie Bellamy moderated awkward conversations with complete precision of notifying the professor of his inappropriateness, yet tolerating it, with intrigue, at the same time.

I have to say, I love this stuff. Every moment of it. I can't wait for more and more.

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