The Public Theater is like the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The building on Lafayette Street (which once served as the United States’ first public library) is made up of a confusing labyrinth of hallways and staircases that occasionally seems to move around, making the building a bit of a challenge to navigate. This is never truer than during the annual Under the Radar Festival, a two-week gathering of experimental-theater wizards from around the globe. Last year’s festival was held entirely within the confines of the Public Theater, leading to massive traffic jams and creative stairway/elevator choreography as audiences tried to make it to staggered performances in every corner of the building.
“There’s something about the chaos we enjoy,” said festival codirector Meiyin Wang. This year is likely to be slightly less of a mess: While performing several programs in the Public’s Lafayette Street space, the festival is also spreading out to venues around the city including La Mama, Japan Society, St. Ann’s Warehouse, and the Freeman Space. The Public will open up one theater to serve as a lounge for the duration of the festival in an attempt to facilitate community between audiences and performers. “The goal is to have everybody in the same space and trading tips.” With an event like Under the Radar, word of mouth is everything.
Speaking about last year’s big hit, Ganesh Versus the Third Reich, Wang said, “We didn’t know that people were going to take to this show with an elephant and a guy dressed up in a Nazi costume. Who knew?” At least one guy had an idea it was going to be something special.
With that in mind, here are TheaterMania’s picks for shows you should definitely not miss at Under the Radar:
You may know the versatile humorist John Hodgman from his many appearances as Jon Stewart’s “Resident Expert” on The Daily Show. Or, you may know him from his podcast, titled Judge John Hodgman. You could also recognize him as a Windows PC in Apple’s series of “Get a Mac” television commercials. If you do, Hodgman’s solo show I Stole Your Dad is for you. In his inimitable style, Hodgman explores contemporary American culture ranging from obsolete technology like fax machines to the popularity of Downton Abbey. He even takes a detour into the film criticism of Ayn Rand. How could you miss that?
A doctor discovers that polluted water is being pumped into the local spa. The mayor, who happens to be the doctor’s brother, refuses to take action because of the negative consequences it could have on the town. As the doctor decides to take the matter into his own hands, he’s branded an enemy of the people. In a production first created in 1993, the Belgian theater collective tg STAN (theater group: Stop Thinking About Names) strips down Henrick Ibsen’s drama An Enemy of the People to find its parallels in today’s society.
Is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind one of your favorite movies? How ’bout that last scene, where [spoiler alert] the two principal characters decide to once again embark on a relationship, despite the promise that “I’ll get bored with you and feel trapped because that’s what happens with me”? What if that’s not what they actually decide? Daniel Fish explores the endless possibilities in Eternal, an unedited video featuring actors Thomas Jay Ryan and Christina Rouner performing this final scene over and over for two hours.
Argentinean documentary theater director Lola Arias brings together 11 Chileans born under the Pinochet dictatorship to share their true stories. On September 11, 1973, General Augusto Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected leftist government of Salvador Allende in a military coup. Assuming the office of the presidency, Pinochet immediately went about making a series of neoliberal economic reforms, which many credit for the substantial growth of the Chilean economy since the ’70s. Many others blame these same reforms for the country’s rampant inequality and believe that the torture and murder of Chileans during Pinochet’s 16-year reign is inexcusable. “Their parents were from the entire political spectrum, from the very left to the very right,” explained Wang. “You have these people coming together onstage to reclaim their history and look toward the future. It’s awesome and beautiful.” Under the Radar is the first stop on the show’s East Coast tour, and it’s only staying for the first week, so you should plan accordingly and not miss this unique oral history.
“He who picks his words well can turn the weakest argument into the strongest.” This is the central assertion of Belgian theater company SKaGeN with the solo piece BigMouth. Performing in Dutch, French, German, and English, monologist Valentijn Dhaenens gives a whirlwind tour of 2,500 years of political oration and shows that the tricks of the trade really haven’t changed much. Wang elaborated, “He takes all these political speeches from history: Pericles, Ann Coulter, Goebbels, and General Patton. He remixes them and does musical looping.” This is the theater of politics and power. What are politicians, anyway, but actors with whom we entrust billions of dollars and nuclear weapons?