Auto Da Fe and ADS
It is the season of opposites! Thursday I saw International WOW’s production of AUTO DA FE and Friday I saw Richard Maxwell’s ADS at PS122. I thought seeing HUSBANDS and Edgar Oliver back to back was a study in opposites… well this was even more so. AUTO DA FE is an overwhelming spectacle, a full-bore theatrical assault on the senses with nearly 30 cast members and ADS is so low-key that it doesn’t even have live actors – just a series of videotaped monologues, delivered in Maxwell’s hyper-pedestrian style, projected onto a glass screen!
You couldn’t really ask for two more different experiences. The one thing that ties them together is they both, in their own way, are more of the same from well-known downtown auteurs. I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way, but if you know International WOW and you know Richard Maxwell, you know what you’re getting.
AUTO DA FE is a play written by Japanese playwright/director Masataka Matsuda, in a translation by Kameron Steele. But really this is another Josh Fox epic with a massive cast, overtones of war, a jarring -and loud- soundtrack and a sort of helter skelter nonlinear series of scenarios unfolding and infolding over the course of two hours. You have to give Fox credit for sticking to his vision. He keeps making work that is daunting to the audience and overwhelming of the senses, he reaches out for a grand vision and epic scope when most everyone else is scaling down and making work that is neatly pre-packaged to tour. There are some beautiful and haunting images and the cast is uniformly dedicated and focused. But still I left the theater feeling exhausted – not sure what I had experienced or what I was meant to take away from it.
Which leads me to ADS. ADS has a gimmick – there are no live actors, just projections of monologues – but it is pure Richard Maxwell, using a mix of actors and non-actors to tell “what they believe in”, speaking in monotone or pedestrian language, occasionally revealing elliptical truths, occasionally just being banal and/or weird. ADS is less abstract than Maxwell’s other recent outings and one can’t help but wonder whether it was made with ulterior motives. Coming as it does during APAP time, clocking in at 60 minutes exactly, if one were cynical one might think that it was a clever ploy to create an inexpensive show that could tour endlessly and in multiple venues at one time. As much as I left AUTO DA FE feeling exhausted I left ADS feeling hungry – hungry for more meaning, more depth, more theater. It just felt so slight compared to Maxwell’s other work, so non-gratifying. It was like “theater-lite”, like a cunning stunt from an auteur who has finally figured out how to game the system.