Congratulations to Cathy, Paul and Jennifer. It was an amazing night at the southern. Below is an account of my experience at the theater. Please feel free to send me an email with a comment or question, or just post a comment on the site.
Cathy Wright: Return
The lights come up on a woman with knee-length red hair and an Ominous Hooded figure. It’s a dark image, filmic in composition. The lights fade up and down as if I am nodding in and out of consciousness, as if the lights themselves are beating like a heart. The Ominous Hooded figure menacingly strokes her hair. I feel like I am watching a David Lynch Film. Is she being held prisoner? The woman with red hair is now kneeling in front of the small clock, the music is knocking and wailing, she reaches in to the clock and ceremoniously removes two shocks of dirty-blond hair. Is it the hair of a dead lover, of a former self? Is she Medea, mourning the loss of her children? The woman with red hair crosses the stage, walking on her knees holding the disturbing relics in her hands. Her body is coursing with tension threatening to explode. The hair seems to hold her back and it is suddenly unnaturally heavy as if made of lead. She is wrapped in hair, suffocated by hair. I am reminded of hair that collects in drains, hair in my throat, hair sticking to my neck on a sticky hot day.
A blast of pulsating, throbbing music and bright light. Three men stalk about the stage, peacocks, soldiers, infants. They bolster themselves with displays of martial arts, throw tantrums, stalk each other. I see violence and sex, moshing and necking. They gather together and present their talons to the audience and grab their cocks. Suddenly they are a spider; a menacing, group-think creature all teeth and venom. They separate and stalk each other again, leading to the final image, a tableaux of auto-erotic asphyxiation or is it CPR?
The lights come up on five women surrounded by portentous silence. Four of them hold mannequin-still while one crumbles to the ground in slow motion. She is presenting herself to us and the action seems to drains her of life, yet she continues to do so retreating further into the floor. The music re-enters and it reminds me of sampled sounds of plastic surgery, this is reinforced by the action of a woman pushing her cheeks together and sucking air in through her mouth in what looks like a mimed face-lift. The women continually present themselves to us, slapping their hips and butts. They are vaginal warriors involved in a pre-battle ritual. They gesture as if to say, “ my ovaries will kill you.” At times I feel as if they are putting on a show for me, presenting themselves to me, at other times I feel as if they are letting me in on a never before seen shamanistic coming of age ceremony. The ritual reaches its climax as the women chasse around each other heaving cleansing, building breaths in unison.
The Red Haired Woman returns, back to the chair, the cloak of the Ominous Man on the floor. Little Red Riding Hood mourns the departure of her captor and wraps herself in his cloak.
Men and women together on stage, the sound of strings, they are dressed in white and they are slow dancing. They are in “ love.” I sense an irony in the music, which at times makes me feel like I’m in a music box, suggesting that perhaps I am witnessing not real love, but fairy tale love, imagined love. Soon, though, making-love fades into fucking. Romance fades into the nasty relationship negotiations; who’s on top and who’s on bottom. Suddenly, silence frames a dynamic moment of repeated actions performed by the couples, a clockwork of life partner behaviors. I am reminded of the repeated patterns inherent in a long-term relationship. This unfolds into a sinister waltz, romance re-enters.
Our Narrator, the woman with red hair returns. She is in the corner with the clock, repeating movement she performed in the beginning. A voice in the music says “ I” and she looks over her shoulder. (is it her voice?) Again, hair is flying. She approaches the center of the stage and shakes her head violently as if trying to shake her hair out of her scalp. She falls and I notice the wind created by her descent gently sways a golden curtain. She starts moving again and I see movement from the other sections repeated. I feel like she is explaining them to me, commenting on the previous action like a Greek chorus. Without warning, she removes her red hair, sheds her skin. Now she is no longer the woman with the red hair, she is Cathy. The sound of wind fills the theater, I hear the word “ open” in the sound score. Again, she takes on the movements and postures of the previous sections as if she is ravenously eating them, digesting them, assimilating them. She retreats upstage and from nowhere a film fills the back wall of the theater. It overtakes me and my skin is covered in goose bumps, what a fantastic surprise! The film makes me feel like I am walking through a field of thorns, perhaps approaching a hidden garden or back-yard shed. A series of still images go by at lightning speed as if a life is flashing before my eyes. Family photos, vacation photos, a Pabst Blue Ribbon shirt, smiles, embraces, groups, couples, parties. Soon, the imagery slows again to a close up of tree-bark. The camera slowly climbs the tree and ascends into the sky.
Off-Leash Area: Our Perfectly Wonderful Lives
I’m looking at four huge, brightly painted flowers and four televisions on wheels. The flowers immediately make me think of Andy Warhol. Four people on the floor slowly wake up and perform their morning time rituals. For each person, there is a television. They all turn them on one by one the action amplified by a Foley style sound effect that pierces through the sunrise-sounding guitar groove filling the air. There are no walls between them and yet they seem distant, and as each television turns on, it is clear why. Who needs a neighbor when you have TV to keep you company? Each T.V. is opened and magically everything each sleeping beast needs to become human is stored inside. T.V. is such a good companion. Not only does it keep them company, but also it provides them with all the products they might ever need. Each T.V. stores some electrical appliance for each character and remarkably they plug in to the flowers and turn on. Somehow the beautiful wallpaper is electrified, the art on the wall provides electricity, but not for something fancy, just to grind coffee or shave off some ungainly neck hair. Two figures are seated on the sides, framed by dressing room lights on wheels. Their backs are to us. A news reporter arrives, and informs about the meteoric rise of art-star Randy Harlow and his immensely popular paintings of sugar packets. The people with the T.V.s seem to all be watching the live action directly in front of them through their boob-tubes, more psychic distance, again, who needs neighbors or to leave the house for that matter? Now we meet Harlow, brilliantly played by Paul Herwig as an odd, obsessive-compulsive, shrinking fellow unused to the attention of a camera, his sugar-packet painting creeping to cover his face as he talks. At one point, as Harlow repeats the word “ sugar,” intoning it as a sort of mantra, the T.V. people all magically produce little sugar packets that match the one in the painting. They are connected; they are instantly in love with Harlow. He is as easy to digest, appreciate and love as a packet of sugar. A funky transition – T.V.s are wheeled about and the T.V. people perform a ritual dance to the gods of cathode-ray tubes and transistors. Harlow has opened a gym and the masses have joined. Everyone is running because Harlow is, because perhaps by running they might understand what it means to be as famous and wonderful as him. The running continues as the Reporter conducts a standard, man on the street’ style interview, gathering the opinions of the plebes to send through the air to the other plebes watching at home. The running builds into a Keystone Kops style chase scene. The giant flower walls have moved and become a series of entrances and exits, hiding places. Who knew art could be so functional? The chase scene wears itself out and we are swept away to the outside of Harlow’s house. Time has passed and Randy has taken a leave of absence from the public eye. The T.V. people are gathered outside, hoping to catch a glimpse standing in standard celebrity worship poses. Live-action, Campbell’s-Soup-Can-Painting style depictions of adoring fans. The Publicist leads the group in a militaristic chant to rile them up, get them ready to see their perfect idol. They are chanting for Randy, pleading for Randy like lepers looking for Jesus, adolescent girls swooning for Elvis. Out he comes bearing a rolled up red carpet, which he delicately rolls out to create a physical barrier between him and his followers, to keep them from touching him too much. In slow motion he picks up his foot and sets it down. The crowd and reporters respond appropriately. At the end of the carpet, which has been rolled up in all of the commotion, Harlow rolls it out again and with the same slow-motion step, restarts the same action. Everyone repeats their part. The cycle loops multiple times as if silk-screened, mass-produced. In each repetition the roles change (except for Randy of course). The marine is the reporter, the reporter is worshiping at Randy’s feet, rolling up the sacred red carpet. It doesn’t seem to matter much who plays who in this oft-repeated star worship ceremony. The Stage is transformed once again, the flowers turned to reveal their slightly ungainly looking tin-foil covered backs. The reporter informs us that Harlow has opened his Studio 54 and this is the eve of the party of the year. Again a man on the street’ interview is conducted and desperation rings through the T.V. people’s voices as they describe how they ended up at this “ great good place.” The party begins and Randy enters wearing a super glamorous silver wig and silver leather jacket, looking something like a low-budget science fiction film visitor from the future. He comes bearing silver wigs for all and the T.V. people put them on. And now, the party gets boring. The T.V. people sit and wait at the party trying to get a moment with Randy, to touch him, hear him say their names, but he only rushes through jabbing away on a silver phone guarded by his publicist. Now the boredom really sets in as canned club-music thumps along repetitively. Here I am reminded of Warhol’s boring and eventless factory films. Nothing but waiting happens on stage, they are bored, I am bored. I think of Warhol’s 12 hour film of just the top of the Empire State building. And then, what breaks the boredom, everyone’s favorite time waster, Drugs! Cleverly, the part of cocaine is played by yellow packets of Sweet and Low. Everyone is high and happy dancing. In the drug-infested madness, a slightly awkward orgy erupts, pants at ankles, mimed oral sex behind a television. Randy pukes into the T.V. and the party is declared over. Perhaps to indicate again the passage of time, the T.V. people pick up the silver walls of the club and spin them as Randy transforms himself on stage. He applies ghastly make-up, looking like a cross between Bozo the Clown and Robert Smith and exchanges gaudy silver for meaningful red. We are welcomed to the set of “ Wendy,” a hodge-podge of popular Oprah-esque mid-day talk shows. As Randy dramatically recounts his story of addiction and recovery and his escape from a life of temptation and excess I am reminded of my brief addiction to VH-1’s Behind the Music where on each episode the same story was repeated over and over. I was always astonished by how the life of each star shared almost the same characteristics. Do we create these polished monsters or do they create themselves? As Randy recounts his harrowing tale, he punctuates the story with over exaggerated gestures. His arms stretched wide with big jazz-hands mouth agape, each gesture echoed by the T.V. people who are taking in the action again through their precious idiot-boxes. At the end of the show Wendy walks up the aisle presenting everyone in the studio audience with… SUGAR! She plows up the stairs plopping the white packets on our laps. One lands on me and I feel unnerved. On Stage, Randy’s punctuating gestures from the interview have become a dance with religious overtones. In the music I hear what I think to be the actual voice of Andy Warhol saying “ yes, well, no.” Reinforcing for me again the dual nature of the pop-icon. The public face we love and the private person we are dying to know more about. I am also reminded of the duality in the art of Warhol; the simple exterior made meaningful by the complex man who made them. The poses are fervently repeated and their dancing makes me think of a cult, worshiping their leader. As they dance, they change their costumes again the silver wigs are back on, but they no longer represent the excess and temptation of the club. Now they appear to be part of the uniform of the adorers. At the conclusion of the dance sequence Randy strips away his clothing to reveal a rose adorned dance belt. He has now completed his life journey from young innocent star, to entrenched addict to immortalized soulless Icon with his followers at his side. Wendy/The Reporter/The Publicist returns from the ais
le with what looks like a handful of roses, which magically transforms into a white coat lined with plastic roses to match the ones on Randy’s skivvies. They all back up slowly chanting “ wonderful” on a path of rose-petals as the black curtain rises to reveal a giant Plexiglas box that looks like an obscene cash-grab machine. The door opens and Randy enters and he assumes a saintly pose. He looks like a plastic action figure Jesus, packaged art. I am reminded of Jeff Koons’ vacuums in Plexiglas. I think about art as commodity about popular culture as religion. It is an immensely powerful and heavily loaded image that I’ll be thinking about for a long time.