A large screen divided into three panels separates the audience from the show's set. Walking through a bed area, kitchen, and couch area, you meet the actors (a rotating quartet of Gob Squad members and special guests that included members Sarah Thom, Sharon Smith and Sean Patten and guest actor Nina Tecklenburg at the performance I attended) but aren't quite sure what you're looking at. It's a savvy move, though, because we will view all the show's action in black-and-white on two-dimensional screens, but this gives us a reference point that we are watching a live performance instead of just a video. Strangely, the screens end up magnifying the thrill of the action while also reminding us of the filmmaking process.
Initially, Warhol had frequent collaborator Ronald Tavel write the script as a vehicle to propel Edie Sedgwick to stardom, but Sedgwick got high each night of the shoot and couldn't remember her lines, radically altering the outcome. Norman Mailer called Warhol's films "historical documents," and along these lines, Gob Squad is fascinated with recreating this moment as a way to gain insight into an era where so much was changing: civil rights, gay rights, women's rights, and sexual freedom of all kinds.
At one point, one actor asks another if she would burn her bra and the latter responds with something to the effect of, "what? This bra? No, it's too expensive." In another moment, Patten, who leads us through the history of the film, points out that they're using Trader Joe's Organic Corn Flakes with no preservatives while the original featured Kellog's with "all preservatives." The one constant he points out is Wonder bread. Patten ingratiates himself to the audience with these little details and anecdotes of the filming process.
Warhol's films, like his eight-hour Empire (a single shot of the Empire State building), have long been his least accessible work but Gob Squad is changing that. Even as they recreate Sleep (a 5-hour and 20 minute take of someone sleeping), they explore the practical difficulty of just lying in front of a camera trying to sleep as naturally as possible. Thom starts out in the bed at the opening of the show but bolts out midway through complaining of boredom and wanting to be a part of Kitchen instead.
It's hard to blame her. The excitement on stage is palpable, and Kitchen is nothing short of thrilling. The actors deliver their lines with such ease it's as if they've just had a great thought and had to blurt it out. There are plenty of surprises, including extensive audience participation for a lucky few, but I'd hate to ruin what Gob Squad has in store for you. I can say they deliver that rare theatrical experience where time melts away and nothing exists beyond the stage (or screen in this case).
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