It was fun, surreal, thought-provoking, maddening, challenging, and whatever other adjectives you can think of.
I was lucky enough to see five of the productions during the run. Here are my thoughts on the shows I saw.
BEOWULF: A THOUSAND YEARS OF BAGGAGE @ CLUB OBERON
Imagine you’re in high school and you’re assigned to read Beowulf. But over the weekend you’re supposed to read it, you get wasted with your friends instead. So, on Monday, you ask a cool, smart and rebellious artist friend of yours to summarize it for you. Then imagine he does it in song. Well, that’s what Banana Bag & Bodice’s performance was like.
They turned that old, dusty epic into a hilarious and rocking good time.
Filled with great performances and funny jabs at the ancient text, Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage was a perfect way to start off the festival.
THE UNOFFICIAL GUIDE TO AUDIENCE WATCHING PERFORMANCE @ CLUB OBERON
This one was strange. Not strange in a Lynchian way (see Bellona, Destroyer of Cities for that tone), but strange in an inexplicable way.
Here you have Raphael Xavier, a talented and vainglorious break-dancer and performer. Admission: I love break-dancing. When I was much younger, I used to watch Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo and try to dance like Turbo. (Obviously, I never quite got there – see video below.) So I can appreciate some good breakin’. But what made this show so weird were the other things in it.
For instance, Xavier, after demonstrating some moves on the dance floor, got up on stage and did some really unfunny stand-up. Not only was it unfunny, but the audience wasn’t exactly clued in on the fact that comedy was coming their way. It took everyone a while to figure out what was happening.
Then a bearded man named Mrlei performed some poetry about Buddhism.
I don’t know. You figure it the fuck out.
PSYCHED @ BCA
Norma, the mother, was played by Larry Coen, in a gloriously uproarious performance. He simply owned that character.
In this version, Norman’s mother worked at a funeral home as a make-up artist for corpses. She’s mean and cold and uncaring and has infinitely complex and creepy issues with her own mother. Norma struts on stage like a diva and tells her macabre tale with unapologetic abandon. Some of the best moments involved Norma’s machinations involving her son, how she hoped he would enjoy killing or how she got rid of his first girlfriend. I know it sounds kind of fucked up, but it was such a pleasure to watch.
BELLONA, DESTROYER OF CITIES @ ICA
Based on an obscure dystopian novel from the 1970s, Bellona, Destroyer of Cities was a mixed bag of the strange, the pretentious and the brave. At its best moments, it felt like a hipster retelling of Brave New World, and at its worst, it felt like Richard Kelly’s woeful and unwatchable film Southland Tales.
In the near future, civilization is bleak: violence is rampant, a rapist is a hero and chaos has run everything over. The story focuses on a group of young people (always the most emblematic types to represent a fictional society) who are trying to navigate through the carnage. It’s an interesting set-up and many of the visuals were striking and evocative, but ultimately the play didn’t convince me of its necessity, its vitality or even its own internal logic.
The performances, though, were brave and effective.
The actors gave a lot of themselves to this world, unabashedly jumping in and doing their goddamn best with the material. Unfortunately, the material didn’t feel like it was there to serve them.
THE MOMENTUM @ BCA
It begins as a mockery of self-help seminars: three impossibly smiling people stand on stage and spout hilariously over-the-top platitudes about “The Momentum” and how it changes your life, makes you happier and allows you get over that time you got blackout drunk and couldn’’t remember who you had sex with.
But, slowly, the seminar gets realer and realer, and, by the end, the members of CollaborationTown (the very talented Boo Killebrew, Geoffrey Decas O’Donnell and Jordan Seavey) suddenly go into these wonderful and heart-breaking monologues about (I assume) their own lives.
I can’t tell you how moved I was during the final section of this work.
Because suddenly the disparity between the hyperbole of the earlier seminar moments and the earnest and human stories they tell becomes so marked, and from what started as a satirical (and silly) comedy emerges a touching point: our problems are much more complex than any quick fix. The real way to get over tragedy and loss is simply to continue living, doing the best you can do to hold on.