Misuse liable to prosecution
nytheatre.com review by Robin Reed
October 31, 2007
I am proud to admit that in college I used a gigantic spool (used to coil wires such as cable and telephone lines) that I found as a coffee table. It wasn't a political statement; I didn't think once about recycling. It was simply that I had seen one in someone else's apartment, thought it looked cool, then came across one months later in the trash.
This found-object instinct might have qualified me to work on the set of John Jasperse's latest work, Misuse liable to prosecution, where everything you see on stage for either set or costume was begged for, borrowed, or stolen.
As the audience enters, a man is upstage right on his back, tangled in a mass of bright orange extension cords. One end of a cord hangs above him in a lovely looped pattern, but the mess at the bottom is where he finds his struggle. For the better part of 15 minutes or more, he may get a leg out only to find that a cord is wrapped around the other. He struggles with this pile of junk.
The show begins with the man's very satisfying release from said pile. It is John Jasperse. He strolls downstage, picks up a nascent broom and an orange pylon. Propping the pylon atop the upturned broom, he begins to speak as if through a megaphone.
He tells us that as artistic director of the John Jasperse Company, he takes an annual salary of $26,000 and that the dancers we will see tonight earn $15 an hour for rehearsal. Myself a performing artist, I thought, "Now that's not half bad. At least they're getting paid" (if you do not know this, many Indie Theater actors work for free). Jasperse then goes on to say that the National Endowment for the Arts' annual grant budget was increased this year to $160 million. Wow. Great! Why does everyone think the artists are starving? Next up: the daily budget of the current war: $720 million per day. Each of these facts was somewhere in my consciousness, but the severity of hearing them ticked off side-by-side hit like a ton of bricks.
So Jasperse decided to do his piece spending as close to nothing as possible (he humorously notes that they've currently spent around $160, but are hoping to pare that number down thanks to Bed, Bath and Beyond's generous unlimited return policy). Over the stage hangs a gigantic sculpture of plastic clothes hangers, the front of the stage is littered with everyday objects. The plainness of the objects are not of note, but when you see what could be one thousand hangers in front of you, it is surprisingly profound.
In each segment of the piece, these everyday objects are brought to another state: pairs of jeans becomes fascinating when they are folded every which way, then turn violent when thrashed against the upstage wall. Water bottles, carefully laid out on a swath of fabric, are then voraciously consumed in a take-whatever-you-can-carry fury. An air mattress becomes quite literally a crash pad when the dancers throw themselves and each other against it. And in the most endearing piece of the hour-long show, a bean bag chair and the cardboard box that surrounds it are charmingly anthropomorphized into Mr. Magoo-like characters, wandering around, trying not to bump into stuff.
The dancers (Michele Boulé, Eleanor Hullihan, Kayvon Pourazar, and Levi Gonzalez) along with Jasperse traverse a great deal of ground in Misuse. They are athletic, raw, introspective, rough, clever, quirky, and many places in between. They are underscored by recorded and live music by Zeena Parkins, who, in her sweet little dress made out of Fed Ex envelopes and bright orange heels, plays what I can only describe as an electric harp downstage left. Her strange and fun music is accompanied at time by live bagpipes that bring a gravity to the piece that harkens back to the gravity evoked by Jasperse's opening monologue.
Upon leaving the theatre, my companion and I got into a long discussion about the need for the Arts in our Capitalist Land of Plenty—if people don't want to pay for it, is it worth anything? I believe this is the question Jasperse is playing with in Misuse; I still don't know the answer, but I appreciate and enjoy his exploration.