nytheatre.com review by Saviana Stanescu
January 7, 2009
Alfred Jarry was a bohemian French writer who, at the end of 19th century, was opening the door to surrealism and the theatre of the absurd through his unconventional and imaginative work. Moreover he invented a pseudoscience—pataphysics—a sort of parody of metaphysics, that attracted many younger playwrights of the time, such as Jean Genet, Eugene Ionesco, etc. Defined as "the science of imaginary solutions," pataphysics still inspires artists all over the globe in their quest to find new, witty, and provocative ways to say something against "The System."
Mabou Mines, the famed avant-garde theatre group, through its most illustrious members Lee Breuer and Ruth Maleczech, reinvent pataphysics according to the new times we live in. The two one-acts, written and directed by Breuer, are very exciting and smart pieces of multimedia theatre "a la Jarry." The first one, Summa Dramatica, is an absurdist acting lesson given by a Holy Cow (Maleczech), a bovine High Priestess delivering spiritual advice to a younger cow-novice (performed by Jessica Weinstein). The text, a "postscript to the Gifford lectures of William James," is rich in intellectual/academic jargon, mixing a large range of cultural terms and references from the Oracle of Delphi to Freud, from Calvin to Tony, from Pulitzer to Back Stage, etc. etc., triggering humor on many levels: from high-brow to cartoonish. Marge Simpson (from TV) appears in the show to tell us:
I lived in Paris with Homer then, fucking Frogs and working on my thesis.
Once I asked him, "Cheri...what does it mean—truth is beauty—and why is it "all ye need to know". And Homer said, "for chrissake, Marge, it's a Grecian urn!
The Greeks have been in denial for 3,000 years.
The Truth is not beautiful.
Maleczech is a very commanding presence, capturing the audience with the power of her words, although she is "hidden" under a huge Holy Cow head and inside a large and long "academic" gown that allows us to see mainly her hands and mouth. At some point she has the spectators on their feet to take an oath together: "I pledge allegiance to the hype..."
In the same spirit, Porco Morto is an absurdist post-obituary performed by the amazing Greg Mehrten, who gives voice and extra expressiveness to a bunraku puppet handled by three puppeteers dressed in blue burkas. Mr. Porco Ph.D. is back from the dead only to share with us, in detail, his burning passion, his love-affair with...The New York Times. He has intense self-deprecating yet abusive sex with the newspaper's pages and explains his rebellious and addictive fascination:
And I, the bankrupt antihero, am enraptured by a whore
Owned by that house of prostitution called The System.
We are a tragedy of terminal capitalism
We are a Love Suicide by Chicamatsu Monzaemon
As in Summa Dramatica, there's no room for truths half-spoken, things get literally graphic and hilariously ironic in this bizarre sexual encounter—a puppet-human stage incarnation of an explicit social commentary. Mabou Mines has trained us during decades to expect provocative and insightful shows that make us think. This one makes us laugh and think at the same time, the most absorbing combination.