Americana Psychobabble: Alexandra Tatarsky at FringeArts Philadelphia
AMERICANA PSYCHOBABBLE by Alexandra Tatarsky, Sep 16-23, Berks Warehouse, Philadelphia
There are dudes outside the window cat-calling up to her silhouette. We can’t see ‘em, just hearing ‘em. Undecipherable words with a clear meaning. Cat-calling her outline, her entrance. Alexandra Tatarsky full on in character: Absurdist Red White and fake Blonde overused-Barbie-Miss-America clown. We see her leg go up higher on the door frame, stiletto dangling. She’s looking at us, seeing us hear them outside. She’s calling back at ‘em, over her shoulder, while staying with us. The dudes outside don’t know we’re here.
She goes: “Thank YOU. You. Thank You. Ew. Eeeewww. No Thanks. Ewwwww.”
She gets in and cracks a Miller Lite and takes a squat.
and “Bomb! Bomb squad. Squat. Squat what? What? Twat to what?”
and “Money honey. Honey. Honey boo boo. Boo hoo. Yoo hoo. Boo you.”
She’s very good at this. This place where language is familiar because of airports and tampon boxes and online preachers and being cat-called and the slow drip of consumer rhetoric.
This is Part 1. “therapuke-tic inter-lewd.”
We’re in someone’s living room in Berk’s warehouse. And the cold beverage is surprisingly delicious. And there’s gold shiny tinsel curtain diagonal across the back wall. And a Fisher Price version of white picket fence. And plastic bags. The one with the original emoji on them, the yellow smiley face. “Thank You.”
She’s zoning in on each one of us. Sitting down, getting up, climbing around. Chest out butt out skinny wobbly knees. Spaghetti Strap. Whale’s Tail. Fish Face.
She gets upset: “A.K. Aka. KKK. Aka caca. Cock, yah? Cock. Caucasian. Cockadoodle doo. Do you. How do you do? I don’t doo doo. I don’t. Do you? Do you?’
Can you pull off your show in someone’s living room? You clown. Tatarsky can. The craft and the presence fill the space, close talking with the readymade intimacy of someone’s living room. She’s toured this solo all over, with alley oops from Movement Research Artist-in-Residence Program, Ringle Solo Performance Program, and a travel grant from the School of Authentic Journalism. I don’t know what it was like in other venues. But framing this as a hangout in someone’s living room late on a Saturday night is definitely an angle.
In Philadelphia, “Fringe” is no longer short for peripheral or DIY. It’s the name of a Gate Keeper-esque non-profit organization (Eeeek!) that structures the Fringe Festival. And there’s a Curated FRINGE and a central FRINGE location attached to an expensive restaurant outside of which you can play cornhole with the spill over from Morgans Pier or maybe even Dave and Busters. And in this central FRINGE building is filled with staff people I really like as humans. (Hey guys.) Who have managed to bring to Philly some of the best international dance artists I’ve seen on American soil. So, that’s the quick context.
I like warehouse spaces because the contract between audience and performer is already shaken like an Etch-a-Sketch back to a gray blank slate. When you walk in and wait around for the “house to open” in someone’s kitchen, with their used tea bag visible over there by the sink and something like a chore chart on the fridge, and you already know if they ride bikes or eat gluten or play nintendo or have lots of arts supplies or what. But you don’t know who they are relative to your being there. Maybe a friend lending space. Maybe taking a cut of the door. Maybe the performer themselves. And it’s not pristine and the staff isn’t worried about the drop cloth being big enough or the walls getting scuffed up. And if anyone threatens to call the cops they’re an asshole and your nipples can show on stage without it feeling like you’re about to get a breast exam or have your portrait painted. Besides, it’s hot in here. And there’s not gonna be a fucking talk back for fuck’s sake. But you could have an actual conversation while trying to figure out where the toilet is. So I’ll take off my shoes and I won’t be asked to put them back on. And my freedom makes me feel the performer is freer. And if she does not use that freedom well then she’s dead meat and we all know it and we might just get up if we want to, or get too drunk, or heckle because there’s no chaperone-ing.
My favorite part is: “You and me: Yummy. You and me: yummy” carrying on and mutating in a squat, taking bites of air, num num numming into Act II.
I can’t tell you much more because spoiler alert. You’re in the dark funny chaos. The first clown will dissolve and another one emerges, who is funnier for being waaaaaaay too close to people you know and put up with, or at least I do. This vulnerable, de-masked clown is a slippery slight at whomever the opposite of Trump American thinks they are with white fragility and neo-liberal selfhood hiding behind the peace industry and consumerist spirituality.
It keeps going, carried by clever craftsmanship and performance skills. I guess we’re into Act III. There’s a bad song in there, and we all get a little sleepy. A third clown comes out like a Russian doll. And there’s a moment with the radio, a gesture of critique towards nostalgia and technology. For me, a slip: letting the trap song go by, no substantive reaction. But let’s go back to the acoustic guitar song, played poorly with expertise. I HOPE it’s a satire of everyone who is like “What Happened?” about 2017? As though there wasn’t genocide of black and brown bodies carried out by our elected leaders on our turf and on the turf of others, pretty much nonstop since I’ve been alive, and my parents have been alive, and their parents and so on. Or, it’s a moment of attempted sincerity with serious blinders. But I think she’s smarter than that. And I think she’s also still got further to push, not as a performer, because when there’s a risk she takes it (she keeps going with the Ketchup, for example. And then goes more.). But in terms of having something to say, of personal ethics, she’s staying stuck in stuckness. There’s no arrow, even though the piece is telling me it wants to have an arrow. With time, I believe there will be. Right now, regardless of her strength, she’s reaching back, over and over, grabbing at nothing where arrows should be. And she’s not alone in this action, reaching into the quiver, quivering.
Meryl Sands: Co-direction/dramaturgy / Art Design: Gina Elizabeth Murdock