Realness Roundup: “Me, Michelle,” “Tool Is Loot,” and “Fountain”

Jack Ferver and Michelle Mola. Photo by Ian Douglas

Characterizing Queen Cleopatra, Jack Ferver’s maniacal grin charges the Abrons Arts Center Experimental Theater during Monday’s American Realness performance of Me, Michelle with the charming Michelle Mola. In a silvery floor-length dress, Mola repeatedly lifts her hands behind Ferver’s head, spreading her fingers to suggest a crown. As a servant, she scrambles to appease Ferver who barks demands: “I’m bored. Tell me a story. I’m lonely. Bring me the thing.” Like children, they play ball and hold a small dog, exhibiting an innocent kinship when not conversing about poison, death and murder.

Simultaneously endearing and dark, their performance maintains a stream of dialogue pouring effortlessly in tandem with the physical action. Mola’s wispy voice continues as she circles Ferver. She swoops with her head close to the floor and one leg raised. Ferver struts in white tights, oscillating between the grandiose Cleopatra character and himself. Ferver and Mola share a bright chemistry and their characters reveal shades of the past and the modern. When Ferver finally announces that he will take the poison, the dialog and upright sequences dissolve into a dance frenzy of floorwork and arabesques, augmented by John Fireman’s music. The ending is surprisingly straightforward: he dies and she cries, concluding a distinct act of the festival.

Another duet the same evening, Tool Is Loot by Wally Cardona and Jennifer Lacey with music by Johnathan Bepler at the Abrons Arts Center Playhouse, leaves more to the imagination. Lacey treats a chair as she might a person, enacting a one-sided flirtation directed at the piece of furniture. She eventually grinds her pelvis against it. Later, recorded text describes an object with physical and emotional traits usually reserved for humans, suggesting a sort of inversion. After disappearing behind a screen, Lacey emerges in a sailor dress with Cardona, the two skittering, jogging and lacing arms. Parallel to the opening text which reads “The whistle travels to the part of the room unseen,” Cardona and Lacey now exit behind the screen where one can imagine their dance continuing. All the audience sees for the duration is the dance of light – a moon-like projection that mysteriously shifts to more solid colors with the heavy brass music.

Also on Monday at American Realness, Jeremy Wade performed Fountain at the Playhouse. With the curtain closed the audience joins him onstage for a participatory group ritual, during which Wade guides the group to circulate, make “sprinkle fingers”, growl, and sustain vowel sounds while shaking. (A similar group sequence was guided late night on Saturday during Wade’s appearance at Public Assembly as part of American Pussy Faggot! Realness. He endured through interruptions by an impatient Penny Arcade and the bar crowd proved more willing to perform and lie on the floor – this one beer-soaked.)  Everyone is onstage. Everyone is a performer, and at the end of the invigorating group section, the audience surrounds Wade in a circle.

During his solo, Wade, in denim shorts and a plaid shirt, struggles to suck in a breath slowly, standing concave. He expells the air, deflating with effort. Again and again he takes these long arduous breaths progressing to an animalistic state. Wade offers intense eye contact as he travels with tensile writhing movement. The group participation before witnessing Wade’s solo adjusts the energy of the shared space to become welcoming and expansive. Left more embodied and physically connected to the performer, the viewer’s perception of Wades solo intensifies as a result of the communal effort.

American Realness at the Abrons Arts Center continues through January 15. Tickets $15.

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