The Naked and the Dad

Still, even as you're aware of these serious shortcomings, you can't help admiring the freedom of imagination behind the no-holds-barred images. Shepard has many imitators, but no one to match his cunning psychological expressionism and comedic ruthlessness. If only he could have found a way to discipline his ungainly vision within the stubborn demands of drama. But he's never been one to cramp his liberated style.


Distantly related to the dizzying improvisations of Shepard's earliest work, though more akin to the collision-style theater of the Wooster Group, the Collapsable Giraffe test the boundary between creativity and chaos. As the strange spelling of their name attests, they have no affection for conventional grammar. Fearless in their anarchic assault, the company either doesn't care about the rules or hasn't yet heard of any. Their last show, Bend Your Mind Off—a co-production with Brooklyn compatriots Radiohole—was rumored to have even challenged Giuliani's anti-sex laws. Ironically, their unpatrolled chaos makes it impossible to accuse Collapsable of wanton sensationalism. In the hermetic world of their Williamsburg garage, there's a noble democracy of perversion.

The choke’s on you: Arliss Howard and Ethan Hawke in The Late Henry Moss.
photo: Susan Johann
The choke’s on you: Arliss Howard and Ethan Hawke in The Late Henry Moss.

Details

The Late Henry Moss
By Sam Shepard
The Signature Theatre
555 West 42nd Street 212-244-7529

Witch Mountain, Black Tarantula
By Collapsable Giraffe
Collapsable Hole
146 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn
718-388-2251

Witch Mountain, Black Tarantula begins with an invitation from a mustachioed young woman to grab a cold Bud and a cushion for the wooden bleachers. A relaxed, "we're-all-one-big-hipster-family" sensibility dominates. Actors drink and chat among themselves, aware of the audience, though completely natural about their unnaturally watched situation. The hush prior to the performance proper includes a good deal of giggling from cast members perched on a peripheral ledge. Microphone checks, staging cues, and the few necessary props are delivered with absolute transparency. The "total fictional lie" of theater, to borrow a phrase from the like-minded experimental troupe Elevator Repair Service, dissolves into a generalized uncertainty about the real and the artificially arranged.

Much of the production's ingenuity centers on constructing the freewheeling theatrical environment. The stage action itself can be described as fragmented, anti-narrative, and mischievously self-parodying. Nothing is taken too seriously, though the actors commit to their individual moments with goofball intensity. Mad scientist Dr. Deranian (Eric Dyer) painstakingly teaches human speech to a grunting surfing creature (Chet Mazur). Later, the doctor runs experiments on Tia (Makeda Christodoulos) and Toni (Liz Vacco), two young girls with telepathic powers who are forced to stare directly into a "dream machine" and contemplate sex with their new uncle. Intermittently, Pussy (Amy Huggans) and Silver (Wyckham Avery), two bare-chested lesbian pirates, lead the gang in raucous musical numbers, whose brazen choreography flaunts all kinds of masturbatory maneuvers.

At a nearby watering hole after the show, a graduate student acquaintance commented on the interweaving of Disney and Kathy Acker. Academic sleuthing, however, is strictly extracurricular. Staying in the theatrical present without becoming hypnotized into an indifferent vacancy remains the audience's biggest challenge. Needless to say, an aesthetic strategy that esteems awkward transitions, frequent interruptions, and attention that's onerously self-regulating isn't for everyone. Understandably, some may complain that the lighting and sound design demonstrate far greater artistry than the writing. (The program lists a "text wrangler," which perhaps tells the whole, sloppy postmodern story.) But those made impatient by the downtown avant-garde's insular madness can while away the evening with the help of free beer and their own daft musings.

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