please let me love you
Brooke Baxter’s GlassHouse Gallery looks like a tornado lifted the tower sculpture from the Garden at 6th & B and set it down in a warehouse in Williamsburg where a thousand dollhouses, art-school projects, televisions and stretched canvases exploded; after which a band of acid-crazed hippies proceeded to throw a body-painting party and love-in, at the conclusion of which they cosmically teleported to the Dimension of Total Cosmic Consciousness, leaving behind an all-encompassing positive vibration and assorted toys for misfit children. Out of this junkyard of the imagination comes The Off-Stage Fright Theater Company’s presentation of Dan Fishback‘s refreshingly subversive renegade performance project PLEASE LET ME LOVE YOU.
On Saturday night Culturebot found himself amidst a swarming sea of early-twentysomething alterna-kids all crammed in to see what Fishback calls a “Tragic Performance Play.” Less a play than a cleverly juxtaposed collection of monologues, spoken word and musical interludes hinging around a single theme, PLEASE LET ME LOVE YOU sinuously explores global politics, American pop culture and all the hateful things we do in the name of love.
Monologue plays are a tricky business – they are inherently undramatic and too often cohere to a predictable formula in which a character lays out a pedestrian scenario and three-quarters of the way through makes a “surprising” dramatic revelation which theoretically reveals the story to be deeper, wider and more profound than it is.
It is to Fishback’s credit that the monologues in PLEASE LET ME LOVE YOU, while loosely adhering to this formula, still provide moments of surprise, insight and startling clarity. Fishback is remarkably uncynical but never naive or overly earnest. He has something to say, and if he is occasionally a little blunt or obvious, it is to be forgiven. More often than not his writing is full of surprises. His surreal spoken word pieces, eloquently underscored by the music of Dibson Hoffweiler and Preston Spurlock, veer from the prurient to the profound as he recounts improbable scenarios that somehow seem plausible in the telling. Michael Jackson looms large over the proceedings, he is a general in Basra, he is a child molester, he is the Prince of Peace.
Director Billy Rosen has structured the performance so that Fishback’s spoken word pieces are used to punctuate more traditional monologues delivered by two strong actresses, Megan Gaffney and Samantha Tunis. The program doesn’t credit them with specific speeches, but each one is given at least one barn-burner. The diatribe of a woman protesting “Peace Mom” Cindy Sheehan turns into a demonstration of maternal anguish, loss and inner conflict that is as heartbreaking as you are likely to see anywhere. An Iranian woman who fled the Shah talks about the relationship of love, music, joy and freedom and ends up in surprising places. And at one point the two actresses meet as mothers in opposition. One, a fundamentalist Christian, has “converted” her gay son, the other is fighting for her gay son’s rights. The conversation that ensues is complicated, nuanced and ultimately unresolved.
And that is where Fishback has succeeded. Each of the monologues and scenarios inverts our expectations, places two equally true (or potentially true) perspectives in opposition and lays them out. And while the overall evening does not adhere to conventional dramatic structure, each individual performance piece is created with tension between ideas, thoughts, feelings and experiences. Fishback doesn’t go for pat answers. While his political perspective (queer, liberal) is obvious, he rarely settles for simple platitudes, rather demonstrating the complexity of modern life. And when, towards the end, he says, “We are so bad at loving each other”, we feel that it is tragic; we have been shown how difficult and slippery love is, how we fail despite our best efforts – and still we persist in trying to get it right.
Lest this description lead you to believe that PLEASE LET ME LOVE YOU is an unrelentingly dour evening in the theater, let me assure you that it is also very funny. Fishback’s playful sense of humor and droll delivery bring laughter in unexpected places. The women’s monologues are written with equal parts affection, sensitivity and humor and the actresses interpret them with skill and aplomb, they are obviously enjoying themselves.
The Off-Stage Fright Theater Company are young artists and there are a few moments in LOVE YOU where that youth shows. But in a climate where swaggering braggadocio and deliberate obsurantism are seen as sufficient markers of artistic merit, it is exciting to see work that gently and insightfully subverts conventions -both societal and theatrical- and is unafraid to actually care.
Final performance is Sunday, February 5th at 7pm. Complete production info and venue location:
PLEASE LET ME LOVE YOU
by Dan Fishback
The Glass House Gallery (38 South 1st Street, Brooklyn)
Thursday, February 2nd & Saturday, February 4th at 8pm,
and Sunday, February 5th at 7pm. ($10 admission)
(Accessible by the Bedford L and the Marcy JMZ trains.)
Featuring: Dan Fishback, Megan Gaffney, Dibson Hoffweiler, Jason Rabinowitz, Preston Spurlock and Samantha Tunis; Director: Billy Rosen; Stage Manager: Katharine Croke; Sound Guy: Cesar Alvarez; Playwright: Dan Fishback.
Michael Jackson “loves” children. George W. Bush “loves” Iraqis. Pat Robertson “loves” gay people. Your psychotic ex “loves” you. You’d think with all this love going around, fewer people would get killed, maimed, abused, and traumatized. Explore the the violence of love and the love of violence in queer performance artist Dan Fishback’s disturbing new play.
Each performance will be followed by a raging party, featuring NYC’s raddest anti-folk, bluegrass, and indie-rock bands. The price of admission will drop from $10 to $6 during the band sets.
Thursday: The Lisps, The Sparrows, Ching-Chong Song
Saturday: The Younger Sister Band, The Wowz
Sunday: Schwervon!, The Leader, The Jeffrey Lewis Band
This performance contains graphic violence and disturbing sexual content. Young children uninterested in such things should not attend.