APAP Time: What’s the What at Under the Radar and COIL

From Gob Squad's "Kitchen." Photo by David Baltzer

Good God! Here it is already the fourth of December January [blame that one on the red-eye from Seattle], and I’m only just getting to previewing the insanity that’s kicking off in mere hours! Ack! All I can say is I had an unintended nine-day detour on the West Coast courtesy of a well-timed holiday excursion. But Culturebot is back and kicking and for the next two weeks will be daily dissecting the theatre and dance madness that annually coincides with the APAP conference, as more than eighty companies try to sell their work onto the touring market by appealing to the handful of curators who constitute the North American contemporary performance scene.

To begin with, I’m going to tackle the two, more theatre-heavy festivals: Under the Radar and PS 122’s COIL. While I’ll readily admit this is my first year, a couple weeks ago and prior to snow disruptions, the Culturebot brain-trust settled in for a long discussion in our newsroom (i.e., a bar) to figure out what to call out.

Under the Radar {Tickets $15-$20 depending on show. The festival plays at multiple venues from St. Ann’s Warehouse to La Mama, so pay close attention when planning and purchasing. The festival bar is at the Chinatown Brasserie. For full line-up and links to purchase tickets, visit the festival website.}

Belarus Free Theatre, Being Harold Pinter. At this point, it’s almost redundant to mention this brave company from a country most people haven’t heard of; such is the PR payoff for a brutal and life-threatening suppression by what Condi Rice once dubbed “the last true dictatorship in the heart of Europe.” As we and everyone else reported on, in mid-December, following another fake re-election of strongman Aleksandr Lukashenko, Belarus’s small opposition protested in what turned into riots (largely with the help of KGB provocateurs). A crackdown predictably followed, with the summary arrest of hundreds, including two members of the company. They had to sneak out of the country just to be here, but here they are with one of their newest pieces, Being Harold Pinter, which counterpoints interviews with Belarussians political prisoners with writings from the eponymous author.

Gob Squad‘s Kitchen (You’ve Never Had It So Good). Gob Squad is an odd beast: an Anglo-German outfit who mix performance and happening with film, TV, and pop cultural references, they create an oddly beautiful and compelling world. At first, I was tempted to write this off as yet another stage adaptation/deconstruction of a film (in this case, Andy Warhol’s Kitchen), which has been all the rage to varying results (from the admittedly amazing to the incomprehensible). But hey, at least Gob Squad hadn’t bothered to see the film they used as their jumping off point before starting. And thematically, it makes sense: Gob Squad’s approach to performance often contrasts the banality of everyday existence with the sensory overload of mass media, re-packaged in theatrical form, so Warhol’s lackadaisical film, which meanders from script to just filming the coked-out Factory All-Stars being their coked-out selves lends itself well to the company’s approach.

2boys.tv, Phobophilia. The Canadian duo behind 2boys.tv (Stephen Lawson and Aaron Pollard) use mixed media and live collage to create immersive experiences. And, having just written that, I realize it’s a damn near meaningless bit of critic-speak. The honest-to-God fact is, Phobophilia, a co-production of HERE Art Center’s Culturemart, is one of those pieces that I just can’t describe before I see it. The long and the short of it is, a small audience will be led to a semi-secret site for the site-specific performance, in which the artists have turned a space into some sort of kaleidoscopic experience of voyeurism and war imagery (or more likely, the combination of the two in such a manner that it will reflect back on a broader issue in contemporary society). The point is, from what I hear, this is definitely not one to miss.

Teatro en el Blanco, Diciembre. If you haven’t already gotten that there’s a strong political slant to UTR, just check out Diciembre: set a few years in the future, the play supposes a war between Peru and Chile (the latter being the home country of Teatro en el Blanco). It’s Christmas, and a soldier comes home from the front on leave, where he spends the night engaging his twin sisters who have wildly divergent views of the war. I’m sure in production, it’s much weirder than that, too.

Betontanc/Umka.lv, Show Your Face!. Welcome to the history of the 20th century as a nightmare from which there’s no waking (in other words, the history of the 20th century), as told through a comic, staged by an amazing physical theatre company from Slovenia and Latvian puppeteers (though that description doesn’t quite do them justice), with a live score by an electro-pop outfit, and you pretty much have this incredible piece of performance.

The rest, in brief: Just because I’m not calling any of these out in greater length doesn’t mean anything, per se, it just means they’re not topping my list for one reason or another, ranging from I’ve already seen them to there’s only so much space. Reggie Watts and Tommy Smith are restaging their Dutch A/V, which, if I’m not mistaken, had its debut back in ’09 at the TBA Festival in Portland, and it promises to be a total trip. I haven’t seen this piece, but I’ve seen these two at it before, so I can tell you prejudging is a mistake: even if you think you know Watts from his comedy or his past life as a musician, it won’t prepare you for what thers two manage onstage. And while we’re on the topic of someone name “Watts,” I might as well mention a show that’s dear to my heart: Barry McGovern’s performance of Samuel Beckett’s novel Watt. McGovern basically developed the tradition of performing Beckett’s prose works, and as someone with an unhealthy attachment to Beckett’s work, I’m personally deeply excited by this piece.

And then there’s the NYC Players’ Vision Disturbance, a powerful piece directed by Richard Maxwell that played to acclaim just a couple months ago; a play about Sarah Bernhardt directed by JoAnne Akalaitis (Jump; a monologue from acclaimed British writer/performer Daniel Kitson; Vice Versa from collectif <idi eldi>, who will be back in a couple months collaborating with Witness Relocation; and the incredible Taylor Mac’s new show, The Walk Across America for Mother Earth. And shere’s still more. Check out the website for the full details.

PS 122’s COIL Festival {PS 122’s COIL Festival is roughly split into two components: the onsite line-up, and the off-site, both of which feature some truly amazing artists and works. Tickets are $15/$2o per show, of five for $55. Or ten for $100. Tickets for off-site performances can be more. See the site for full line-up and links to purchase.}


Ranters Theater, Holiday. From respected Australian company Ranters Theater, Holiday is one of those odd shows which really manages a surprisingly empathetic look into the lives of others through off-kilter comedy.

Teatro delle Albe, Ouverture Alcina. Honestly, this one fascinates me primarily because it promises an anti-spectacle, which, as much as I do love the brilliant collaboration of performance and technology, will be a somewhat welcome respite. A chamber opera based on a Renaissance poem, this is a piece that focuses exclusively on the power of vocal performance to move audiences.

Jack Ferver, Rumble Ghost. Remember that comment I made above about adaptations/deconstructions of films? Well, Ferver’s Rumble Ghost is one of the ones that’s decidedly worked: beginning as a reinterpretation of Poltergeist, the work devolves into a group therapy session based in a technique that, in its desire to release the inner child, winds up reflecting back on the horror movie conceit in fascinating ways. Be sure to read our recent interview with Ferver about the show.

Erin Markey in "Green Eyes." Photo by Karl Giant.


Travis Chamberlain, Green Eyes. Okay, we may not be impartial to this show, but it looks incredible. Directed by Travis Chamberlain and starring Erin Markey, Green Eyes is an obscure Tennessee Williams erotic thriller that’s being staged in a suite at the Hudson Hotel for extremely limited audiences. Coming up a mere month before the New York debut of the Wooster Group’s Vieux Carre, Green Eyes is part of a re-examination of one of America’s most popular but endlessly evasive dramatists, and the producers are presenting a series of panel discussions exploring Williams’ legacy, including one on Williams and the avant garde, featuring directors such as David Herskovitz, Moises Kaufman, Elizabeth LeCompte, and Chamberlain himself, and moderated by our own Andy Horwitz, on Jan. 15 at 3 p.m. at the Museum of Arts and Design.

Others, in brief: The rest of the off-site line-up features shows that, across the board, we’ve praised in the past: Radiohole’s Whatever, Heaven Allows; Palissimo’s Painted Bird Bastard; Brian Rogers’ Selective Memory; The Debate Society’s Buddy Cop 2; and, of course, THEM, the Chris Cochrane, Ishmael Houston-Jones, and Dennis Cooper piece that blew everyone’s minds a couple months ago when it was re-staged after 25 years. Who knew that a fierce and tender movement/spoken word/music performance about the negative affects of being gay in a society that suppresses you would resonate so much two decades and some since? Why, these days we’re so progressive we let gays openly fight and die for a country that denies them equal rights. Yay us!

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