Kong and Behind the Bullseye Lead Vanguard Making Summer Season Relevant
Long, long ago—all the way back in the '90s—theater took the summer off. Sure, Shakespeare in the Park and other plein-air classics vied for audience attention, and repertories and Off-Off spaces offered sporadic programming. Yet, for the most part, critics and audiences could blamelessly avoid the theater, devoting themselves to less dramatic pastimes like dodging mosquito-borne illness and protesting the humidity.
No more. Now, the warm weather teems with festival after festival. This summer has already played host to the Antidepressant Festival, Teatro Stage Fest, Summerworks, Muslim Voices, and the ongoing Summer Solo Series and Summerfest. This week marks the debut of the Summer Play Festival, the Lincoln Center Festival, Ice Factory, Fresh Fruit, and the Underground Zero Festival. And at least six more festivals will appear before September. So much for summer vacation.
Recently, amid the rain and occasional swelter, two of downtown's most affable festivals opened their doors. The Ontological-Hysteric Incubator—held at Richard Foreman's Ontological Hysteric Theater—specializes in emerging artists, and its lineup this year features Performance Thanatology, Seattle's Helsinki Syndrome, and several evenings of experimental music. A dozen blocks south, Dixon Place's somewhat disorganized Hot! Festival celebrates queer performance: Artists appearing in Dixon's brand-new theater include Penny Arcade, Edgar Oliver, Dynasty Handbag, John Kelly, and Split Britches.
The Incubator's first theatrical offering, Sponsored by Nobody's Behind the Bullseye, ends in a frenzied bacchanalia: The six members of the cast kneel before an altar of cleaning products and comestibles, drink glasses of Tide detergent, hood themselves in shopping bags, and writhe uncontrollably. As a parody of performance art, it succeeds admirably—but as documentary theater, not so much. The company crafted Behind the Bullseye after conducting interviews with shoppers and employees at the Brooklyn branch of Target—and making off with at least one shopping cart.
Most of the performance consists of monologues spoken by three shoppers, two Brooklyn employees, and one sweatshop worker. While one character orates, another looks mournfully into a video camera. Writer-director Kevin Doyle uses the same tricks in each speech—repeated phrases and staccato rhythms meant to give ordinary language the pull of incantation. Several times, characters make the gnomic declaration, "Retail is not what you think it is," yet the play doesn't support this assertion. Its less-than startling disclosures include: (1) Americans like to buy stuff; and (2) Asian sweatshops produce that stuff. The play also divulges how Target employees "who aren't able to stay fast, stay fun, stay friendly are shot, execution-style, out in the back by the loading docks," though I find that last revelation rather difficult to credit.
At the Hot! Festival, I had hoped to see Big Art Group's Cinema Fury: The Imitation, starring Justin Bond and Theo Kogan, yet that show was suddenly closed to critics. I contented myself with Kong, Pamela Sneed's one-woman condemnation of the representation of minorities in society and cinema—specifically in the recent King Kong remake. To sum it up: "This Kong is pure unadulterated, straight-up nigger." The conclusions she draws from the film are no more surprising than those that Doyle extracts from Target, yet Sneed has a winning manner, a lyrical voice, and six feet two inches of shaved-head stage presence. If King Kong is a beast, she's a beauty.
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