Fake Germans Enjoy Beer, Porn

In 1971, the West German government pasted up millions of posters calling for the arrest of the Baader-Meinhof gang. "Our youth is turning on us!" the flyers blared. Thirty years later, the young companies Radiohole and Collapsable Giraffe present Bend Your Mind Off—a work largely drawn from the history of the gang. Their poster should read: "Our youth is turning us on." Delirious, chaotic, gross-out, and droll, Bend Your Mind Off is quite the theatrical aphrodisiac.

The cunningly titled piece (Bend Your Mind Off/Baader-Meinhof) marks the latest in a series of lauded works by the two companies—Collapsable's Damfino and Three Virgins, Radiohole's Bender and Rodan—and the first performed in concert. It also debuts the Collapsable Hole space, a new theater fashioned out of a garage in Williamsburg. The play's tumult takes place on a shallow stage ringed with mikes, monitors, a photo of Buzz Aldrin, and sheets of rubber affixed to ceiling springs. The audience—with free beers and cigarettes in hand—perches on flammable wooden tiers. The makeshift seating isn't the only source of hazard. The rickety set, gimcrack tech equipment, heads slammed into mikes, bodies thrown against rubber, flung tampons, and beer bottles hurled in the dark at thirsty spectators all contribute to a sense of peril.

And then there's the danger in trying to wrap your bent-off mind around the disjointed text and action. The Baader-Meinhof material (whether announced in voice-over, screened on monitors, or sung hilariously off-key by Erin Douglass) shares space with new-wave hookers, Kraftwerk covers, and Fassbinder outtakes. The confusion begins rather quietly with a birthday party for Jim Findlay, who lazes on a sofa with Eric Dyer (barring the Fassbinder interludes, the performers' names are used). The two men guzzle beers, watch porn, and mutter at the audience. "You can sit up front," Findlay assures some latecomers. "It's not a splash zone." Don't believe it. Moments later, the soundtrack kicks in, the monitors flash, the attack on the rubber begins, and three bewigged bimbos bitch about the Palestinian terrorist summer camp they attended. Apparently the soda machine was like always broken and they totally bogarted the live ammo.

Bend Your Mind Off: Now that Fassbinder is dead, my life feels empty.
photo: Megan Shanna
Bend Your Mind Off: Now that Fassbinder is dead, my life feels empty.

Details

Bend Your Mind Off
By Radiohole and Collapsable Giraffe
Collapsable Hole
146 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn
718-388-2251

Mercurius
By John Jahnke
Here
145 Sixth Avenue
212-647-0202

Not every section works perfectly well. The Gang of Four selection will not be soon forgiven, the manic alt-cult referencing wears thin, and the Fassbinder scenes seem out of place (in a piece where disembodied phalluses and a crooned "I Wanna Fuck the Dead" feel right at home). But the frenzy of sleazy sex, perilous props, Kraut rock, and the radical left succeeds surprisingly well as low-tech, high-voltage entertainment. The actors—who also created and directed the show—perform the material with absolute commitment and unforced delight.


The actors in Mercurius also do an admirable job with their material, perhaps a better one than it deserves. This fablelike play, written and directed by John Jahnke, suffers the same ills that plagued his last work, Lola Montez in Bavaria. As in Lola, Jahnke directs with elegance and insight. He provides a luscious sightscape and coaxes excellent work from his actors. But his script never merits the lavishness. The tale concerns a pair of alchemical sisters, the parents who abandoned them, and the hermaphrodite genie (Mercurius) who reunites everyone. As in Bend, sex and violence figure prominently: lots of blood packs and nakedness. But Mercurius's story plays out like an allegory that's forgotten what it meant to allegorize, or a bulletin from Jahnke's unconscious that's yet to make its way into the collective one.

As the sisters, Sabrina Artel and Louise Edmonds dazzle with their Pre-Raphaelite looks and assured performances. Tanisha Thompson astounds and confounds as Mercurius. (I had to check my program twice to determine her sex.) And Jerry Schwartz's pared-down beach set is a star turn in itself. But the stilted dialogue, strangely static language, and desultory decadance layer a murky patina over the pretty pictures. Were Jahnke to direct another playwright's better-structured script, perhaps his stage paintings would glow all the brighter.

 
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