Mr Smith is unquestionably a highly talented writer/performer. He is one of those who have reached the apex of the form: fluent, deft and clear, with an accomplished and undulating musicality, following a wide-ranging, interpersonal, political, humanistic flow of images and stories. The sound- and imagescapes were works of great intricacy and grace, supportively layered and interwoven into the piece. The opening moment, a “palate-cleanser” in his own words, was easily the most exciting and beautiful section — full of potential and mystery, movement and power, the kind of stuff that lifts your butt off the seat. Then it landed, and the form began to unfold.
O Sole Mio, enough of this well-made play-type stuff! I’d love to complain about how the world will not withstand the onslaught of such perfection, but clearly such perfection is what keeps the world spinning. And the way this world is spinning is not something I’m comfortable with. I am at heart an aging dissident: restless in my Anti-dotage. Is it enough to mention Haiti?
Once again with Project we are in the territory of accepted performance conventions. Where Rimini Protokoll evaporated most attributes of conventional performance into an oddly static long-distance phone conversation, and Radiohole lightly stirred them into a messy satire, Mr Smith and Co. are settled comfortably into a different tradition (whose once unconventional attributes have been embraced as comfortably as Archie Bunker’s chair does his ample rear). This tradition has been firmly linked with both autobiographical exposure and a certain type of political/art activism. It is one of the culturally accepted positions for the Voice of the Outsider.
No matter how well-done and beautiful the performance, no matter how radical its sentiments (and Simon Rodia’s work and life can stand for both of these from a number of perspectives), when it appears behind the beautiful lights and curtains of this Tradition’s podium, the words spoken from this place are drained of blood and left a Fine Evening Out. And this sucks all excitement from the experience. This is doubly unfortunate in the light of the Watts Towers themselves that spoke from a scrap of dirt to a heavy neighborhood near a train track.
Lest you think that I am an irremediably cranky old man who can find no pleasure in his chosen profession, I will briefly say that there is a nameless collection of people who did a show in a cold basement under apparently semi-illicit conditions that I was lucky enough to take in after the Out There SpeakEasy. Because they are young, the gist of The Thing dealt with love and relationships, but the means by which this subject was approached allowed air in. It took place in the stank-and-funk basement(!) — a created environment in which movement, text, sound, bodies and light are given a rough ride and obliterate the proscenium and its minions of doom.
And once that arch was out of the way (and all that goes with it) you could take part in this experience, rather than sit and watch a Fine Evening Out. It was immediate, visceral, suggestive, and clever. Whatever it had to say was placed directly into your body, and revealed the passive artificiality of Dead Performance Conventionality. I was almost knocked to the wall a couple times and handed my half-eaten pancake so that one of them could stand on the table at my elbow. I was told what happened before that, and before that and before that, and that I was going to get a present. It reminded me of a manifesto I wrote back in the day. It was a manifesto. It was a highly engaging, effective piece of work that I hope will continue to shout out the doorway to the rest of the world “I like it rough!”
And I wish I could have seen Crotch, too.