Monday, February 20, 2006

Zomboid! (Film/Performance Project #1) written and directed by Richard Foreman

by Charlotte Deaver

At this time last year, Richard Foreman announced that he would no longer produce plays, but was shifting his medium to film. It was pretty shocking news, considering that he has been presenting theater annually in New York City since 1968. Due to the exuberant influence of my husband I've been attending his plays since Film is Evil: Radio is Good in 1987.

With NYC boasting The Wooster Group, Robert Wilson, Meredith Monk, and John Jesurun, among many others, avant garde theater is well represented here. But were we to think, with the crushing news of Foreman's abandonment of the stage last year, that we might be losing one of our most loyal participants?

As it turns out, the answer is both yes and no.

Zomboid!, Foreman's current work, is indeed partly film. Playing in the Theater at St. Mark's, for years the home of the Ontological-Hysteric Theater, it is also in many ways like Foreman's other plays: spatial orientation is distorted by glass partitions that reflect the audience, wires strung throughout both theater and stage, and light-bulbs that snap randomly and jarringly; music and spoken-word loops recall echoes of old radio shows and Cagean experimentalism; the set, too, remains crowded, intense, and laden with hand-made props such as large eyeballs, candles, chalkboards, stuffed animals, and oil paintings.

The incorporation of film (two large screens set at right angles), however, changes the effect of the set dramatically. By opening it up, expanding it out into the world, the sense of mystery and dread is all but eliminated. At the expense of the usually claustrophobic, densely psychological atmosphere evoked by the set, the Australian sun pours through windows in the films, which portray severe-looking, Euro-chic actors who dress like antiseptic architects from Brussels, move very little, and occasionally repeat hypothetical propositions (none of which I can recall, or I would recite them here).

Previously, actors would wander the stage in a Foreman play, bewildered and lost, teased and tempted, offering abstruse yet provocative verbal gems. In this performance, several actresses stalk the stage, sometimes as sex kitten/victims, sometimes as dominatrix/aggressors, as one lumbering, leather-bound actor, tall and dark, fields their affection or abuse. While this is a typical dynamic for Foreman’s characters, the tension between them seems lost in this new, austere, diffused language of film and live theater.

As with all of Foreman's work, there (absolutely and defiantly) is no plot. If the plays have been, in fact, *about* something, it is of elemental philosophical questions of being, desire, impulse, the relationship between the mind and reality, and language. The script, untethered by narrative, is as abstract as consciousness itself. In Zomboid!, however, the verbal text is even more minimal than usual. As if to explain, the cover of the program reads:

"Mostly -- people are interested in 'events'. But I find more potent, the time between events, the oscillation of the field -- in this case that potent "staging area" in front of filmed tableaux, in which the archetypically 'blindfolded' hover like semi-visible Gods -- semi-controlling the wobble of 'blind' impulsive behavior on the stage below."

Unfortunately, the "events" in Zomboid! between which we "wobble" are too flat, are not quizzical enough, making that desired "oscillation" vibrate only a little. As an idea, it is compelling, and in Foreman's theater, usually equally so. With this newer "performance," though, staging and film don't quite live up to the concept.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

State Radio 2.18.06 Bowery Ballroom

by Charlotte Deaver

In some ways, State Radio is hard to describe: leftist headbangers meet ska-frats? Surfer dudes meet vanilla hip hop? One Love meets Move On? At the same time, although several musical and other styles do collide, the band has a clear, even simple agenda: rock out and speak out.

Like other political artists such as Billy Bragg and Steve Earle, this band mixes their music with their message. Unlike Billy and Steve, though, every single song is political. Ranging from war crimes to the plight of a waitress, each song is a battle-cry against some infringement upon democracy at home and abroad.

Although State Radio's lyrics play to a working class culture and an ethics of dissent, their fans at the Bowery Ballroom on Saturday night resembled nothing of the sort. Rather, they evoked middle America’s frightening and deceptive normalcy, the very status quo from which I recoil. These suburban teenagers, not old enough to wear wristbands, instead wore their baseball caps on backwards and chanted what sounded like R.O.T.C. mantras. For a second we thought we were at a high school football game.

If I seem to be dwelling on the crowd, it’s only because they helped set the tone for the night: while the politics and music were well-intentioned, something about the squeaky-clean, adolescent whiteness of the audience matched perfectly with the supposedly anti-establishment music and messages. As sweet and earnest as lead singer and guitarist Chad Urmston is, he’s not very articulate or inspiring, which severely undercuts his desire for dialogue, education, and challenge to the status quo. Were he more biting and edgy, or a real threat to America's wayward ways, the parents of his fans would probably be less likely to have let their kids out of the suburbs for a night!

The evening did offer some great moments, all of which were musical. I especially loved it when the band's crunchy metal riffs chugged along with its thick-bassed reggae rhythms. That convergence of acid guitars and rock-solid beats is what State Radio does best. I could have done without the orchestrated sing-alongs and Pavlovian, fist-pumping call-and-responses, but maybe I should be grateful that these kids are getting drawn into something, perhaps witlessly, larger than they anticipated. And if all they get out of it is a rockin’ night away from mom and dad, they're still doing alright.

Camilo, a song about a U.S. soldier who left Iraq as a conscientious objector and was court-martialed and imprisoned upon his return, is playing to your right. As ever, please support the band by purchasing their music.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

A perfect day in New York 2.04.06

by Charlotte Deaver

This painting, "The Virgin Annunciate," by Antonello da Messina, was the sole reason we visited the Met today. Circling the Upper East Side for parking, traipsing through the rain, we felt like we were on holiday, tourists in our own city. Having often in the past combined vacation and pilgrimage, this journey had that wonderful sense of being at once familiar and new.

A young Sicilian girl looks off into the distance, her hands slightly raised, as if to both acknowledge and halt the viewer. She is the one being viewed, imposed upon. In this case, she has just been notified by the most consequential of all curriers, the angel Gabriel, that she will bear the son of god. Weighty news, indeed.

Most Annunciations I've seen are sweeping, abundant, magical scenes. Mary bows as Gabriel delivers his solemn message. Witnesses gather. Wings and lilies abound. It is the spectacle of miracle.

Here, rather than a slight, submissive profile kneeling before the awesome figure of Gabriel, a mind, a complicated intelligence, is being confronted. The look of recognition on her face is mixed with distraction and resignation. Yes, I am coming. Give me a moment. Centuries later, we find her still.

Then, after a walk through glistening streets and the best cappucino in town, I sing Tallis and Arcadelt in a Catholic Church while parishioners play bingo in the basement. No, no, I'm not Catholic.

But I am, clearly, Italian.