nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 15, 2004
Frustration, after spending ninety minutes in a theatre and understanding the point of almost nothing that happened on stage, can make a reviewer lust for a neat revenge: there's a real temptation for me to simply list here all the seemingly weird events of Shivah/Proper, ingenuously and earnestly, the better to hang the artist with his own possibly misguided or pretentious art.
There's even a chance that Mathew Seidman, the writer, designer, and director of this very odd and very opaque performance art concoction, deserves such treatment—but it's a slim one: charlatans will find little lucre in mounting ambitious productions in the FringeNYC festival, where the financial payoff for even the most acclaimed hits comes only years down the road, if it comes at all. No, I'm very certain that Seidman and his collaborators genuinely mean to communicate something urgent to audiences in Shivah/Proper, and what's more I'm willing to bet that there's an audience—a small one—that's going to get the message. nytheatre.com, as I hope you know, is about nothing if not being supportive of artists who challenge themselves and others and who take risks. So for Shivah/Proper, the appropriate reaction is not ridicule but respect.
The piece begins with an arresting image: a nude woman perched on a cross (she will stay there, mostly immobile with arms outstretched, for the better part of an hour). More unsettling visuals follow: a man vomits coins onto a stage; another man, naked but for a doctor's white coat, recounts off-kilter sexual anecdotes; a woman seemingly kills her baby and then dies.
Most interestingly, there are several monologues of what sounds, to my uncertain ear, like a modern take on beat poetry: it's concerned, mostly, with sex and body parts, connection and disconnection. The words in Shivah/Proper strike me as the show's most successful component.. But the imagery—violent and, alas, dully repetitive—has a raw power: I wish Seidman's apparent preoccupations were less visceral and more cerebral.
Obviously, Shivah/Proper is meant to disturb, to shake up, to alarm its audience. In his preview piece about the show, Seidman describes it thus: "An act of Terror? Live? Why yes. Tits and ass and balls? Of course. Roadside language bombs? No doubt."—accurate, as far as it goes. In its inaccessibility, to this viewer/auditor at least, it goes no farther, I'm afraid; but if Seidman learns something about his vision and his process here, then all is emphatically not lost.
A final comment: Jesse Goldberger, the principal actor in the piece (billed in the program as "Prayer") is quite compelling, and seems to have an authentic understanding of what he's doing in each moment. The other performers—Alexis Golightly, Vincent Dow, and Stacia French—are called upon to do very demanding things (like standing naked on a cross with arms outstretched for an hour); they're game and fearless but less able to convey meaning.