Posted September 13, 2007
NOTE: This piece is a sort of a hybrid between the kind of genuine theatrical commentary I usually offer on this site, and the sort of comic essays I write for my own general enjoyment. But it is all true and it does express my opinion of seeing Dood Paard's "medEia" and "Lounge-zilla" at the Berkshire Fringe.
Theatre critics can’t walk out on a show. No matter how terrible the production may be, or how psychologically painful to me for personal reasons (I can hardly bear to sit through Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie and yet I am required to do so at least once a season), I have to stay put.
And I actually consider walking out on a show, particularly while the actors are on the stage, to be the height of rudeness. Unless a show has been completely misrepresented (i.e. you were promised The Music Man and you got Oh, Calcutta!) or turns out to be particularly offensive to you personally (i.e. you are a rape victim and rape is portrayed as an acceptable and entertaining occupation) you should stay in your seat.
Now there are people who buy seats to a show without knowing very much about it, and in that case if you plunk down money to see a musical, any musical, and you get Oh, Calcutta! that is your own damned fault, not the actors’. You need to be an informed consumer. That’s what we theatre critics are here for. In addition to giving you our own opinions on the production, with which you are free to agree or disagree, we are here to tell you how long the show runs, what might be offensive about it, what age groups it is suitable for, etc. Pay attention and don’t waste your money on shows that are not your cup of tea.
Going to the theatre isn’t cheap for the ticket buyer, but it also involves a big investment of time, talent, and emotion for the performers, technicians, and house staff. You can walk out of a movie and not hurt anyone’s feelings, but actors know when the audience is walking out of the theatre, even if they can’t see them (you may not be aware but most professional stage lighting makes it nearly impossible for the actors on stage to see the audience) and it is demoralizing.
I mention this because over the past season I have seen two shows that contained nudity. In both cases I found it to be completely gratuitous (in other words it was not essential to nor did it further the plot) and yet I did not see a single person walk out of the theatre. In both cases the actors appearing nude were exceptionally attractive and no doubt had to demonstrate their physical attributes before being hired for the roles.
I also saw shows in which blatant physical, psychological, and emotional abuse were perpetrated, with disastrous results, and no one batted an eyelash.
Then, at the very end of the season, I saw medEia a 75 minute play based on the Medea legend performed by Dood Paard, an avant-garde Dutch theatre troupe at MASS MoCA from which large numbers of people walked out. No one in that performance removed their clothing. There was only one “swear word” spoken. None of the actors literally played Medea and enacted the horrific moments in which she murders her sons – everything was told from the point of view of the chorus – but even if they had, the publicity for the show clearly stated that this was a version of the Medea legend, a legend about a mother who kills her children that has been publicly available for millennia. I have attended two stomach-turning plays about Susan Smith’s murder of her two sons (plays which were clearly intended to generate monetary profit for the creators – profit earned from the blood of dead babies) and no one walked out.
Furthermore, this was a show at MASS MoCA, a venue dedicated to presenting unique and cutting-edge performers, by an avant-garde Dutch troupe. No one was promising The Music Man. No one buying a ticket to that show in that venue should have been surprised to see performance techniques that were distinctive and unusual. And it clearly stated in the program that the performance would run 75 minutes without an intermission. An hour and fifteen minutes is not a long time to be polite, especially considering that this was our season of Dutch Arts in the Berkshires. These people were our invited guests! Either don’t buy a ticket or sit there quietly until it’s over. It won’t kill you!
Earlier in the season, I attended all but one of the productions offered by the Berkshire Fringe Festival down at Simon’s Rock. Like the shows at MASS MoCA, these were advertised as avant-garde shows, many of which had mature, adult themes. I am a grown-up and I enjoy a variety of theatrical genres (otherwise I could not possibly be a critic) and so I went with an open mind and the expectation that I would be exposed to new ideas and techniques.
Of the six out of seven shows I was able to attend, two were absolutely outstanding, two were very good, one had potential but needed work, and one was appalling. The appalling one was the most highly touted and was called Lounge-Zilla. Within two minutes of entering the theatre I was miserably uncomfortable and wanted to walk out more than anything in the world. That is VERY unusual for me, and I take those gut reactions seriously.
Lounge-Zilla is a two-man act featuring a gay Asian singer and his Caucasian accompanist, who together write all the patter, music and lyrics for this mock lounge act. Their intention is to make fun of bad lounge singers, but what they have failed to realize is that in order to poke fun at something awful you need to be better, not worse, than the material you are spoofing. Instead, they were the most awful of the awful.
I am not obviously a gay man, although my sons are convinced that I am one secretly, but gay humor, cross-dressing, etc. doesn’t bother me. In fact I love a good drag act, or a strong performance by a man or woman playing a member of the opposite gender. (Pop Quiz: Two performers have won Tony Awards for playing members of the opposite gender on Broadway. One is Harvey Fierstein for Hairspray. Can you name the other?)
But Lounge-Zilla was just deeply offensive to me. He kept taking off layers of clothing for no apparent reason (and I REALLY didn’t want to see him naked) finally stripping down to what a swear was the bathing suit my sobbing mother bought for me California in 1963 when I was the world’s tallest six-year-old and the only suit that fit me had bra cups in it. His songs were neither tuneful nor funny. His attempts at audience interaction were sexist and size-ist. (He referred to thin women as “sexy lady” and larger women like myself as “sassy lady,” but he was really only interested in the gay men in the audience.)
Upon entering the theatre we were all handed those silly cardboard 3-D glasses and promised a thrilling 3-D finale. After suffering through the first 50 minutes of what I had been promised was only a 60 minute show, I was greatly relieved to be informed that it was time to don my 3-D glasses. But I discovered that in order to wear the 3-D glasses AND see the stage clearly (something we theatre critics consider vitally important) I had to jam my regular theatre-going glasses on on top of the 3-D shades. It was a stinking hot and humid evening and I was already looking like a large and grumpy ball of sweat. I could only imagine what this eight-eyes look did for my appearance, but this was my job and by gum, I was going to do it!
Well, the thrilling 3-D finale involved Lounge-Zilla emerging from a pup tent dressed as a Boy Scout who, after suffering exposure to a nuclear blast, had developed a four-foot long…member. This thing was carefully cantilevered off of his loins and painted many garish colors which produced shocking 3-D effects.
My, was I excited.
And imagine the heights of rapture to which I climbed when Lounge-Zilla scampered up into the audience and sat down next to me, almost squashing my new Coach bag, which I snatched from under his descending buttocks at the last possible moment, clutching it to my bosom in both hands like a demented, 3-D glasses-wearing squirrel.
I’m sorry, you can take off your clothes, commit rape and murder, and sing bad songs off-key all you want, but you don’t mess with my Coach bag!
The ONLY reason Lounge-Zilla escaped being beaten to death at that moment, was that he actually wasn’t paying any attention to me but flirting with and waving his appendage at the man seated on his other side. Soon enough he took his enormous three-dimensional dick and went to harass a woman over on the other side of the audience, this time approaching her while making pre-orgasmic moaning noises, which caused her, sensible girl, to leap to her feet, shriek, and run. He pursued her throughout the theatre to what was intended to be hilarious effect before pulling the cord that released a copious flurry of confetti. The sigh of relief when the ejaculation proved to be dry instead of wet (like oh, say, vanilla custard) was audible.
I continued to clutch my Coach bag and glower.
Now, explain to me how three fully-clothed Dutch performers offering their rendition of an ancient Greek myth is more offensive than that?
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