Experimental Theater Built To Survive the Zombie Apocalypse: Radiohole’s NOW SERVING
“We’re all going to die!” Maggie Hoffman decries as the kick-off to a moribund toast in the early moments of Radiohole’s Now Serving at the Collapsible Hole through November 16th. Described on their website as “an irreverent dinner party featuring haute vaginal cuisine,” the copy helpfully adds, “You will get wet: You might get drenched.” I can attest, although from second row in the peanut gallery, liquid only managed to hit one of my shoes. The people in the first row had already been issued sunglasses and had napkins to hold up against the carnage. All we had by means of shield in the second row was the people in the first row.
This was my first Radiohole show. I came in with certain expectations for the work based on hearsay. That it would be a brash attack on decency, perhaps. I was (and am) also of the mindset that that which we would consider “downtown” theater and performance in New York City, if not dead, is now on the endangered list of the theatrical ecosystem. There has been a distinct shift in programming even in the past eight years (the amount of time I’ve lived in New York). Fewer and fewer venues remain, audiences are hard to come by. The younger generation of theater artists seem more inclined to write plays without the means to produce them, leaving pound upon pound of sacred text on the doorsteps of new play-producing organizations. Funding grows ever scarcer. In a sense, seeing a Radiohole show contained within a native environment (their own space! How rare!) was like going on experimental safari. What would we find? An artifact from a previous generation of makers?
The answer: Kind of? Now Serving is comforting, in a weird way. It’s certainly not comfortable, but in its rigor, formal structure (the courses dictate the shifts in action), and performative daring, it achieves messiness without being sloppy. This exquisite mess, as anyone who goes to any amount of experimental performance knows, is actually very difficult to accomplish. It takes detailed preparation, planning, and experience to make a proper mess without endangerment of actors or audience. And even if this wasn’t a full-blown chaos (a friend I ran into at the show who has seen other Radiohole performances described it as “for them, a chamber piece”), it still serves as a vital reminder that the tried-and-true experimentalist tricks still work, can speak with force and truth despite their abstraction in the face of our present mess.
And so, even if death is on everyone’s menu, lurking somewhere after dessert, this evening, we survived. We all survived. Even Pepe the frog, played by Eric Dyer, who fills the role of a man-servant (kind of) and is beheaded, turned into froggy meatloaf, and served as a main course, later gets up off the table and makes an esoteric phone call that includes the words “banana dildo” and is about farting but somehow functions at the highest level of eloquence. We may be all about to die, and scrappy downtown experimentalism may be making its last stand against extinction-level events, but tonight, we keep drinking, eating, living.