Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Avant-Garde theater: game of pretention chicken?

I don't have any books waiting to be reviewed, but I wanted to post something else this week. Conundrum.  Then I was looking over my review of The Lover's Dictionary, specifically the definition of avant-garde, and thought about how ridiculous that play would be to see. For those that skipped my review (how could you??) and thus missed the definition, allow me to share:
avant-garde, adj: This was after Alisa's show, the reverse-blackface rendition of Gone with the Wind, including songs from the Empire Records soundtrack and an interval of nineteenth-century German poetry, recited with a lisp. "What does avant-garde mean, anyway?" I asked. "I believes it translates as favor to your friends," you replied.
 And this reminded me of a ridiculous production of Pericles I saw and have decided must be shared.

Back in my freshman year of college I was taking a Shakespeare's Tragedies class and we were given the assignment (along with free tickets) to see a production of Pericles done by the A.R.T. I did not know what I was in for. Rather than explain to you the plot, or try to dig up my review, let me tell you the bits and pieces I remember. I want to note it's really not important you know the plot of the play to appreciate these. I'm not sure the director knew it.
  • Woman wearing panties, the pelt of a Muppet, shoes that bordered closer to "stilts" than "platforms," and nothing else.
  • A little girl dressed in all white carries a huge gold beach ball onto the stage. She takes a step, throws the ball high in the air, catches it, repeat. Until she's across the stage.
  • Pericles wears what appears to be a thong made out of a bed sheet.
  • A person in a tan body suit, a pink sarong, and a gorilla mask dances across the stage
Just as Shakespeare imagined it. Photo by Richard Feldman
 My Backgrounds of English & American Lit* prof came to the play as well and I sat near him because he's all kinds of awesome. He sorta looked like a garden gnome, but as an average sized person and he spoke ancient Greek. At intermission he asked what I thought of the play. I tried to come up with a nice way of saying "I think I'm too sober to understand what's going on" and as he saw me struggle with a response he goes "Well, is it worth what you paid to see it?" I stopped and said "Free? Yes, yes it is worth exactly that." He laughed and agreed.

My Shakespeare prof did not agree however. Apparently the reviews the class handed in were a collective "WTF did I just see?" and she chided us that we were the MTV generation and should be used to random things happening. I never really followed what she meant, and she certainly didn't appreciate my "Muppet pelt" comment which made it into my review. Looking back now I realize if I could have worked animated gifs into the paper, I probably would have.

I feel like avant-garde theater is a way to mess with pretentious people. Because it definitely seemed like they were trying to see how much they could get away with before the audience goes "OK WTF was that?" And apparently for my Shakespeare prof, they didn't hit that wall.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find any pictures of the Muppet pelt or monkey mask. However, I did find that other picture above, which captures what I remember this play being like. There are more pictures on the site, and you can even see giant gold ball in one of them, just to prove I'm not completely making those points up, although it's someone other than the little girl holding it.

*This was made up of various Greek tragedies, The Illiad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid, The Bible, some Plato and some other stuff I've forgotten/blocked from memory. In case you were curious. You probably weren't.