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Under the Radar: Roundup #2

Reports on Once and For All We're Gonna Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up and Listen, Ads, and Silver Stars.

By New York City
A scene from Once and For All We're Gonna Tell You...
(© Phile Deprez)
A scene from Once and For All We're Gonna Tell You...
(© Phile Deprez)
[Ed. Note: This is the second in a series of TM review roundups of shows in the 2010 Under the Radar Festival.]

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The sounds of raucous kids emanate from backstage while theatergoers wait for Once and For All We're Gonna Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up and Listen to begin at the Duke on 42nd Street. Once the house lights have dimmed -- and following a youthfully arrogant if sometimes slightly incomprehensible monologue -- the offstage pandemonium spills onto the stage, and the 13-member cast roughhouses, dances, makes out, and gets high. It's an arresting beginning to an absorbing hour-long portrait of the utter confusion of being a teenager.

A buzzer interrupts the young people's shenanigans, and they quickly clean up their mess and hustle off stage. Soon, the blaring music of Stijn Degezelle's eclectic soundscape (which ranges from Peggy Le to Lou Reed) is roaring again, and the action begins anew. The young people go through the same basic routine, but there are slight variations in both action and tone, beautifully showing how often in the tumult of teenage emotions one action can have myriad meanings. Occasionally, the mayhem is interrupted by a brief monologue, such as when a young man walks downstage to describe his greatest fear (being like his parents) or when a young woman talks about what propels her through the oft-repeated sequence.

There are other sorts of variations throughout the work, including a notable sequence when four guys are left onstage and have to figure out whether or not to enact with one another the fumbling heterosexual lovemaking they usually do with the girls. The scene is not only charming, but seems incredibly brave as it reveals the sometimes homoerotic longings that can lie underneath aggressive teenage male bravura.

After one final monologue, in which a young woman explains that being a teenager means pushing the limits farther than any previous generation has, the company goes through their pattern of activities once more, proving her point with surprising poignancy.

-- Andy Propst


A pr image for Ads
(© Michael Schmelling)
A pr image for Ads
(© Michael Schmelling)
Conceived and directed by downtown auteur Richard Maxwell, Ads defies conventional notions of theater, and is probably best described as an experimental film for a live audience. A co-presentation of both Under the Radar and P.S. 122's COIL Festival, the show features no live actors. Indeed, the only live component of this intermittently engaging and often frustrating piece is watching other audience members get up and leave.

The film is screened using a 3-D projector and features a succession of people giving brief talks about their beliefs (and sometimes whatever else is on their minds). Several of the participants -- most of whom remain anonymous -- come across as proselytizing, as whenever the tricky subject of belief comes up, it's often in the context of convincing others to believe the same thing you do. The piece is probably titled the way it is because many of the segments sound very much like advertisements, and one man even tells us not to mistake him for a salesman.

Among the more interesting speakers are a musician who "practices" at being a Buddhist; a man who used to play with the ghost child of a Sultan and then believes he may have encountered him years later as an adult; and a woman who did a search through her e-mail to see the times she actually used the word "believe." However, mixed in with these individuals are others with more banal observations.

Maxwell's particular brand of hypernaturalism, which he's demonstrated in many of his past theater works, seems to be carried over into the speeches given by several of the film's participants, who tend to stand and talk without moving or gesturing very much. Some fix their gazes at a point in front of them -- either the camera or possibly a teleprompter -- while others speak more extemporaneously. The hour-long piece ends rather abruptly with one of the least engaging of the speakers. And while the project has merit, it's bound to be disappointing for those who come in expecting a performance.

-- Dan Bacalzo


A scene from Silver Stars
(© Jill O Malley)
A scene from Silver Stars
(© Jill O Malley)
The realities of being Irish and gay -- and coming out both before and after Stonewall -- are eulogized and mourned in Silver Stars, playing at the Public Theater. Created by composer and writer Sean Millar, in collaboration with directors Feidlim Cannon and Gary Keegan, this earnest piece only engages theatergoers' emotions sporadically.

Silver Stars combines audio from interviews that Millar conducted, with music, video sequences (created by Killan Waters), and monologues that are delivered by a largely amateur cast of gay men. The show includes reminiscences from such figures as Brendan Fay, who crusaded for the inclusion of gays in New York's St. Patrick's Day parade and from a Jesuit priest who fought in World War II, and was only able to come out once he was well into middle age.

Theoretically, this should be a devastating look at times far less liberal than the one in which we live. But more often than not, the stories are delivered in such distanced and reverential tones that the production seems merely like a maudlin museum piece. One of the chief difficulties with the show are Millar's songs themselves -- which are not so much numbers as extended and artsy solo and choral recitatives. Similarly, Cannon and Keegan's staging is often pretentious and static (alhough it's beautifully lit by Sarah Jane Shells). As a result, the production is often sapped of its emotional heft.

Still, there are moments when the piece is unquestionably powerful, most notably when it turns to ACT UP activist Robert Rygor, bringing the early days of the AIDS crisis back into sharp focus for anyone who lived through them. The sequence includes both a video segment featuring his parents, who describe his final days, and what is perhaps Millar's most successful piece of music: a heartfelt encapsulation of Rygor's testimony before Congress.

-- Andy Propst


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