A Beckett Spook House
A voice—gentle, feminine, and located somewhere above your left ear—whispers, “You are on your back in the dark.” She’s quite right. You and a dozen others lie supine with eyeshades affixed, feet bare, hands crossed upon your tum. You are on your back in the dark and entirely at the mercy of the Rude Mechanicals troupe and its production of Company—a late work by Samuel Beckett. (I’ve always imagined Beckett spending quite a lot of his own time on his back in the dark—particularly on bright sunny days with pleasant breezes and the excruciating sound of laughter outside his window.)
In their Access Theatre production, director Lane Savadove and his performers transform Beckett’s prose piece into an experiment in sensation. Each audience member becomes the star player in this fragmented narrative of a man left alone with his thoughts and that mysterious female voice. Four actors play elements of the man (Intellect, Emotion, Body, Memory). The other actors—each assigned to one or two audience members—all play the voice and manipulate the participants’ bodies. When Memory describes an outing with your mother, a feminine hand tugs at your own. This hand strokes your head, tucks blankets over you, lifts you to standing. The touch is tender, but the toucher foreign—leading to a strange mix of infantilization and frisson.
The language is vintage Beckett: the spareness, the repetition, the gloom (“A dead rat! Now that would be company!”). The play works less successfully for female theatergoers, because—as in most Beckett—the protagonist is male and the constant use of words such as he, him, and his can’t help but create a distancing effect. Gender dilemmas aside, the piece works very well. And, lasting only an hour, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, making it excellent company indeed. —Alexis Soloski
The Inn Crowd
Performance art comes to . . . whatever neighborhood Fifth Avenue and 27th Street is. In Live From the Living Room, curator Neke Carson presents a series of Tuesday-night salons at the Gershwin Hotel—hostelry of choice for the arty and Euro. Taking over the ground-floor Living Room—the space where director Elyse Singer recently mounted Mae West’s Sex—Carson lets each week’s celebrity host select that night’s performers. October 10 was writer Anthony Haden-Guest’s turn. The inimitable and charming Brit read some delightful light verse, as well as excerpts from his upcoming book, Famous—tales of the unusual ways people seek notoriety. Especially droll was his report from a porn set, where a woman was attempting a record-breaking gang bang with 300 men. The 300th guy won the opportunity in a magazine contest. “The 300th,” said Haden-Guest. “I’m not sure that’s a prize.” The Reverend Jen, normally seen a little further downtown, was Haden-Guest’s first invited performer; she sang a ditty called “Put Away Your Glue Traps” while dressed as a rat. Haden-Guest’s other pick was a dance piece by Mariane Vitale and Michael “Soy Bomb” Portnoy. Dressed in faux-Moroccan red outfits, the two moved awkwardly to a fractured narrative that played on a tape loop and mentioned something about snowblindness. Let’s hope it was a gag.
Upcoming Living Room hosts include, among others, Jared Harris, Anita Sarko, Edgar Oliver, Todd Oldham, and Penny Arcade (well, maybe skip that one). Hotel namesake George Gershwin not slated to appear. —Brian Parks
Not-a-Honky Tonk Blues
The authenticity question is a constant in country music—the genre’s most fertile byways are so often lined with Merle Haggard-worthy backstories. Despite blues and gospel roots, c&w’s also the whitest of enclaves; you can trace its hue back perhaps 80 years, to the day that henchmen at Columbia decided on a schism between “hillbilly” and “race music.” The country tradition, as writer-performer Kevin R. Free has discovered in his one-man show Face Value (Henry Street Settlement), thereby makes an ingenious locus for a consideration of racial identity and representation.
Free’s central conceit is an E! True Hollywood Story-type program in which friends, relatives, and business associates of one Wes Youngman—an African American chart-topper who sings with yodelly inflections and a steel guitar—hold forth on the question of whether or not the young star is “really black.” Youngman only sings, never actually speaking for himself; Free conceives him as a tabula rasa for the projection of others’ race anxieties. The parade of talking heads includes a belligerent white producer (who envisions Youngman as his black Howard Keel, his “Oklahomeboy”); a prissy black musicologist (summarizing Damon Wayans’s Bamboozled character in 30 far funnier, more incisive seconds); and his contemptuous brother, Mohammed Abignigra, who utters a Möbius-strip line that sums up the slippery concerns Face Value only fitfully tries to get hold of: “Wes has always been something he’s not.”
Free, who captures the distinctive tics, timbres, and cadences of 10 different characters in rapid succession, deftly maintains his juggling act for Face Value‘s entire hour, but he throws up his hands for a “you decide” ending that mistakes irresolution for nuance. Satire needs verisimilitude, but it also needs a solid point of view. —Jessica Winter