nytheatre.com review by Ross Peabody
April 22, 2006
Attempting to articulate everything that happens in a Radiohole show is a losing battle. The unfettered experience of seeing the Brooklyn-based collective’s work will always trump any description of it. Frankly, after it trumped the description, it would probably also lecture it while wearing a homemade tutu as soon as it finished with all the dry humping, but that’s beside the point.
In the last several years, Radiohole has taken on German epics, spaghetti westerns, a vast frozen wasteland, Situationists, and the Baader-Meinhof gang to name a few (generally while swilling beer and gyrating maniacally), but now, with Fluke (Solemn Mysteries of the Ancient Order of the Deep) or Dick Dick Dick, they’ve found their metaphorical White Whale. Well, they’ve taken on the story of Moby Dick at any rate, and everything that goes along with that, facing down the vastness of the ocean, the smallness of man, the fear and isolation of being at sea, and, of course, mortality.
Fluke is, very distinctly, the Radiohole version of Moby Dick. It’s the Melville classic as seen through the eyes of three explorers lost at sea, imagining life, death, and Esther Williams; searching for the whale while all the time transforming into it. This is Radiohole we’re talking about, so it’s much weirder and more esoteric, definitely less direct, than all that, but the skeleton’s there. And “eyes” may be the wrong word, as you rarely see the eyes of anyone onstage. When they’re not wearing sunglasses, Eric Dyer, Erin Douglass, and Maggie Hoffman are performing blind, quite literally, eyes closed with whiteout painted eyeballs on the back of their eyelids. This is no small feat, considering that they still occasionally engage in their regular doses of frenetic choreography.
In fact, much of the company’s mainstay aesthetics have landed intact at P.S. 122, but this is a very different Radiohole that we’re watching. The loud music still erupts at times. The Do-It-Yourself set and technological instruments coupled with various sundry gadgets and toys are here, controlled from the stage by the performers. The opaque poesy and looped logic and collage text of found and original writing are all intact. What’s interesting about Fluke is that it’s like watching this volatile, rowdy, and crazed company’s fiery aesthetic through water, miles and miles of it. It muses rather than assaults. It expands instead of explodes. It’s slower, quieter, and disturbingly tranquil, but it has the feeling, much like the ocean’s depths that the play claims to plumb, that there’s something aggressively dangerous just below the surface, something not fully able to be seen.
Fluke begins, literally, and plays out, figuratively, as something of an exercise. As the audience enters, there are Dyer, Douglass, and Hoffman in exercise gear being led through a fairly by-the-book calisthenics routine by Scott Halvorsen Gillette from a monitor upstage. They retreat to their prep table and get ready for the show as Dyer introduces us to Gillette and Gillette describes exit strategies for the theatre. Think of it as an elaborate curtain speech as delivered via live web cast from Vermont.
Sound effects are fewer and farther between than in most Radiohole shows, and there are far fewer words. But the ever-present “Sounds of the Sea” album seems to fill in the gaps between unusually philosophical musings, generally coming from Dyer. Most of the show plays out in chairs or is confined to the three single-person rocking boats that the company supplies, so when Hoffman breaks out and climbs the ladder to the crow's nest and clips herself in to lean deftly over the edge, or when Douglass (joined by Hoffman and Dyer later) dances on the shaky springboard “land” at the front of the stage, there’s a distinct feeling that they’re stepping into the unknown. And, in a sense they are, because, as noted before, they’re doing it with eyes closed exposing only their whiteout fish eyes.
It feels a little dangerous, and would be, for less disciplined performers. There’s the biggest rub about a Radiohole show: No matter the material or the presentation of it, you always want to see what these performers will do next, usually because it’s engaging (at worst) and mind-blowing (at best), but also because, honestly, they might really hurt themselves. Not to mention that they’re all just so good. Hoffman is by far one of the most extraordinary performers in New York right now and has more expression in her painted eyelids than anyone in the mainstream, and Dyer gives the impression that even if pushed out of the boat, he would continue to write poetry, performing madly for the water rushing by while actively rejiggering the boat’s engines, less to save himself and more to just make really cool noises.
Once called the drunkest, highest company in New York, words like anarchic, punk rock, wild, scrappy, and vulgar are routinely applied to the group, but with Fluke and its quieter, unsentimental thoughts on isolation and aloneness, new and unexpected words can be added to the list, such as—believe it or not—meditative and contemplative. Not to say that Radiohole has never approached the profound before. They have. Generally, though, they choose the profoundly perverse above the merely profound. This time around, the company is defying expectations by doing what they do best: the unexpected. About 20 minutes into the show, Douglass says to Dyer two simple words: “you’re changing,” to which the other responds simply: “everything changes.”
In the context of the play the two are discussing the fact that they are lost at sea and slowly changing into fish, but after watching Fluke you’re left with the clear feeling that this company is trying something new, exercising change. It’s a bold experiment, muting their signature style for something more expansive, and I would say it succeeds and is worth the attempt. Fluke is also not only philosophy and musings. Radiohole is still a smart, hyperactive group that sets out to have a debauched good time, and, as it succeeds, happens to run across the bigger secrets of the universe. When they get back to land, I have no doubt that the party will be waiting for them.