An Operative Break-Through
It’s a terribly gusty January night in the Lower East Side. Luckily I’m not walking very far—from Delancey up to E4th. I’m seeing a piece by a company from Barcelona called Agrupación Señor Serrano. I have a terrible memory so I guiltily associate the last name “Serrano” to my favorite pepper. I find 74A and see the poster for the show: an action-shot of four men in an island of polystyrene foam (or Styrofoam) breaking pieces mid-air. I enter the theater expecting the live-action-replica. Deliberate? I can’t tell and, frankly, it never really matters except that I suffer from that irresistible compulsion to find meaning, and in that compulsion I experience visions of purposiveness and I inject those to whatever I’m experiencing. I have a feeling that I already know the ending to this piece. But so what? Right? I also know that death in an inevitability of life.
I order from their concession stand.
I take off the layers and sit with my program. Title of the show: Brickman Brando Bubble Boom (say it five times. I do.) As I let the B’s escape my language lobe, I wish and hope that the title is intentional, because repeating it in my mind, over and over, to the rhythm of their club-boom-sync-boom-beat boom, makes me feel buoyant.
After the bubble mantra, I am floating, and the play hasn’t even started. The guys sit on a multi-layered bed of foam and minus that and the VJ/DJ/Tech table house right; the stage is empty. After a few minutes of being settled in, the company begins to build their show before our eyes.
I am not the intellectual theatre-goer type. I probably will not be able to articulate the cultural and theatrical impact of utilizing the layers of toy-theatre, live-feeds, and a looped ukulele, drizzled with the honey factor of a recognizable figure like Brando and topped with the nutty facts of our very real problems with the crisis of the mortgage system (invented by Brickman.) I will not be able to because even in writing it here, all I think about right now, is of a delicious pastelillo de hojaldre y nueces or Baklava (layers, honey, nuts). Guys, this is not an assessment. It is only a personal response to an impactful evening.
They start the piece by building a projection screen, and what would later become the side of a house. I admit, there was something very childishly satisfying about seeing them penetrate the foam with the plastic stakes. It was like seeing them kill a giant coffee-cup vampire, over and over again. The repetition of motion helped with the hypnotic rhythm that the entire piece moved with. Even when technical issues inevitable to high-tech productions arose, and the rhythms broke causing a disturbing effect on the company on stage, the audience stayed under the spell.
The piece moved to the rhythm of their digi-toy-land, videos of old movies dubbed into Spanish (live) by a company member, and snapshots of historical facts. Honestly, the parts where I found myself thinking, “Okay. Next,” were regarding Marlon Brando’s story. But please, before you read any further, understand—I am not a fan of Brando. I am the complete opposite of a fan of Brando. However, personal taste aside, Brando-as-Brickman-as-Brando as Agrupacion Señor Serrano, functioned as an excellent vehicle for one of the centrifugal ideas of the piece: homes. We all look for a place to call home, and often, build ridiculous things around that very idea—lives, houses, and waste. Using Brando’s unequivocal troubled-childhood-turned-manic lifestyle as the blueprint and the foundation, then erecting Brickman’s personal story and rise to success as the father of the mortgage system over it, was nothing short of genius. The game of Monopoly plays a valuable role in the piece, as the recognizable “hotels” and money are used to demonstrate the ridiculousness of an obviously broken system. There were juxtaposed scenes of Extreme Makeover, specifically a scene showing an American family whose home gets made over, with shots of angry mobs and the moments of emotional paralysis that come from facing a truth (150,000 foreclosures in Spain in 2012.)
The most vibrant and effective part of the play was watching them complete building the house on stage out of a possible carcinogen. I get it. They used this because you can break through it with ease and it creates that incredibly satisfying POP when you do (remember that image on the poster?) But again, my irreparable search for meaning can’t help but think semiotics and organics. So. Building a toxic house. Making toxic choices. Then breaking through and out of it. That was a great moment. I knew it was coming, and it still made me yelp when it did. It was loud. It was violent. It was fun and angry and it captured the feeling of complete hasta aquí (I’ve had it up to here) that we witnessed minutes before on a projection of angry Spaniards protesting the foreclosures.
Then, standing on an island of waste, the bubbles came. Bubbles, yes bubbles, dripping over the seemingly destroyed systems, lightly soaking through the fictitious idea that we can easily break through greed like we can break through polystyrene foam, the realization that the music has stopped, that our hearts are inevitably beating faster (especially those of us closer to the front), the realization that behind the cameras and microphones and electronics and tech, there are four men—sweating and catching their breath. And as the rain comes down, a few bubbles here and there, that magical moment when we all come to the conclusion that we are all together, here and now. That perhaps we are changed. That perhaps we are not. That it doesn’t really matter. And the lights sluggishly dim, and the claps bashfully arise, and it hits me like a ton of Brickmans that I have to go back into the cold and find my way to a home I’ll never own.