Behind the Bullseye
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
July 1, 2009
If you're still holding onto that cherished myth that there's no such thing as a class system in the United States of America, well, hasten to the Ontological Theater to see Sponsored by Nobody's Behind the Bullseye and be prepared to have that myth blown to smithereens right before your eyes. This performance art investigation of consumer culture and all that it implies, as exemplified by the collisions of classes at a Target store in Brooklyn, is sharp and incisive and brilliantly funny. The word "genius" actually danced through my mind once or twice, the object of that notion being writer/director Kevin Doyle, the guiding spirit of this remarkable work of theatre, a talented artist who seems to make more and more exciting and inspired choices with each successive play.
Behind the Bullseye introduces us to six archetypal characters, and as soon as we lay eyes on them and see how they are dressed, we can infer a social hierarchy among them (and we will be 100% correct). The two white characters are at the top: the White Woman (as she is identified in the program) is a prototypical Yuppie consumer, a woman who shops at Target for the items she wants/she needs during her free evenings after work (because weekends are "her time," not for running errands); and the white man is the Assistant Retail Store Manager, a privileged member of the store's management team (though, in his opinion, not privileged enough; he keeps waiting for the powers-that-be above him to grace him with a promotion to full ("actual") store manager.
Below them on the ladder are the two black characters. Black Woman is another ordinary consumer, but she lives in Crown Heights and has to commute by train and taxi to do her weekly grocery shopping at Target. She comes here because they've got what she needs at a good price; but the half-dozen or more shopping bags that she's loaded down with suggest a kind of compromise with convenience here. The black man in our story is Sales Floor Team Member, who, despite having requested a cashier position on his application, is a stock clerk, metaphorically battling the customers—sorry, "guests"—who keep him from ever completing any work by constantly asking him for things. ("Our guest needs Bounty," he intones over his walkie-talkie to Assistant Retail Store Manager, in a moment of aptly symbolic branding.)
Hispanic Woman tells us that "we never go in there," but although she buys everything she needs around the corner from her apartment, she sure does seem to spend a lot of time at Target, enjoying the air-conditioning and coveting things she can't afford while watching her husband make eyes at the thin white women who can afford those things.
Asian Woman is the final denizen of this universe. She tells us right from the outset that she is not an Asian American, but rather simply an Asian: a young woman living and working in China, Korea, Vietnam, producing textiles, flatware, home décor, you name it.
In the rules of Behind the Bullseye's world, the two Target employees interact (in accordance with their roles) but no one else acknowledges anyone else's existence... EXCEPT that Asian Woman helps everyone.
So, okay, Behind the Bullseye isn't exactly subtle in its exploration of classism and consumerism, but it's honest as all get-out, and many of the laughs are of recognition as this strange "chamber play"/fantasia unfolds. Doyle covers lots of ground here, from the Are You Being Served?-style absurdity of Target's hierarchical requirements for staff dress to the raw inequity of the salaries of Asian Woman (64 cents per hour), Sales Floor Team Member ($306 per week), and Assistant Retail Store Manager ($47,000 per year). Bubbling under the surface throughout (though never more so than in the final moments, in a Hitchcockian inside joke coda on video) are observations that feel like gentle jibes at the form itself: Behind the Bullseye uses the familiar elements of post-Viewpoints/post-Foreman experimental theatre in the expected ways, but there always seems to be something deliberately off-kilter about them. When the three worker characters construct a shrine centerstage out of common products like Rice-a-Roni and Wheat Thins boxes, they fulfill the requirements of their performance art-y model, but at the same time they create a perfectly symmetrical store display that would fit right in at any Target store.
Kudos to all six members of the hard-working cast—Sarah Stephens (White Woman), Sauda Jackson (Black Woman), Mayra Castro (Hispanic Woman), Natalie Kim (Asian Woman), Mike Carlsen (Assistant Retail Store Manager), and Keith Jamal Downing (Sales Floor Team Member)—and also to the designers/technical staff (Wilson McGrory, Garret Savage, Patrick Clancy, and Brendan Regimbal in addition to Doyle himself). They've given us a little monument to our cultural moment to cherish and ponder and, hopefully, learn something from.