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The Art of Luv (Part 5): Swipe Right / ROKÉ Cupid

The Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble finds religion in a match stack.

Tei Blow, Eben Hoffer, and Sean McElroy wrote and star in The Art of Luv (Part 5): Swipe Right / ROKÉ Cupid at the Bushwick Starr.
(© Maria Baranova)

Is it a video installation? A karaoke night? A cult? It is difficult to categorize The Art of Luv (Part 5): Swipe Right / ROKÉ Cupid, which seems to be partially the aim of its creators, the Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble (ROKE). We know it has something to do with modern dating, a process that fuses the ancient act of coupling with cutting-edge technology and contemporary notions of political correctness. It is a subject about which everyone in the audience likely has feelings, an emotional powder keg that is unfortunately dampened by the obscure ritual of this peculiar attraction.

Describing itself as "a musical priesthood," ROKE comprises performer-sound designers Tei Blow and Sean McElroy. Eben Hoffer, who occupied a minor role in last year's The Art of Luv (Part 1), has apparently graduated from neophyte to ordained minister. We can tell by the mystical triangle that has taken over the Bushwick Starr: three corners, three bendy microphones, and three sound boards for our three audio clerics.

A bottle of Corona is consumed from a saxophone in The Art of Luv (Part 5): Swipe Right / ROKÉ Cupid.
(© Maria Baranova)

Joined by actors John Gasper and Rigel Harris, they perform supplications to Eros (at one point, a bottle of Corona is sacrificed) while delivering lengthy monologues that appear to be drawn from dating apps. Tinder profiles whirl like dervishes in kaleidoscopic projections on the three sheer curtains surrounding the space. Occasionally, our priests sing a hymn with lyrics projected in retro-'80s karaoke font. It feels as if a society in the distant future discovered the embarrassingly trashy remnants of our world and incorporated them into a solemn religious rite.

Certain moments in Part 5 come close to the thrill of revelation, like when Hoffer incants an overly long and demanding dating profile: Written with the pretense of keeping it real, it becomes a deluge of neurosis as Hoffer's voice darkens from chill to mean to violent to psychotic. The music swells as he rattles off a laundry list of increasingly personal questions for his potential suitors: "Do you believe that children need discipline? Should parents ever disagree in front of the kids?" It's a pretty heavy introduction when you're trying to get a first date, but any cursory glance at OkCupid will let you know that these people are really out there.

Eben Hoffer, Sean McElroy, and Tei Blow perform a karaoke number in The Art of Luv (Part 5): Swipe Right / ROKÉ Cupid.
(© Maria Baranova)

Other bits feel gimmicky, like when Gasper and Harris voice lines from a montage of rom-coms while the actual films silently project on the curtains. Gasper holds his palms out in an open position as he recites a painfully awkward Hugh Grant monologue from Four Weddings and a Funeral. Perhaps ROKE is suggesting that our marriage-focused grand gesture-embracing culture is derived from a steady diet of Hollywood garbage, that this is merely life imitating art. By this point, though, the blood is draining from our legs and it is hard to care.

The audience is seated around the periphery of the triangle, squeezed onto hard pews and floor cushions in a way that tells us we were not the primary concern when designing this temple. Perhaps the physical discomfort we experience during the 90-minute show is meant to make us feel the pain of Hugh Grant on the cross. Certainly, the monotonous reading of a Tinder profile is enough to make it sound like Paul's Epistle to the Corinthians. We may not commune with the divine in Part 5, but it does feel an awful lot like church.

Of course, when so much theater seems tailor-made for the old, there is something thrillingly transgressive about a play whose seating is fit only for the limber and lithe. Also, we cannot fault ROKE for its zealous commitment to the collaborative spirit: No individual director or designers are credited, meaning no one person gets the glory for the perfectly timed Richard Foreman-esque flashes of light that occur whenever an actor penetrates the central triangle. The well-curated projections are, ostensibly, a group effort. So are the delightfully evocative costumes: white tunics over gold lamé leggings that are liable to give you an American Apparel flashback.

John Gasper holds up two tuning forks in The Art of Luv (Part 5): Swipe Right / ROKÉ Cupid.
(© Maria Baranova)

Champions of the unapologetically weird will undoubtedly be drawn to ROKE and its latest happening, a Straight Outta Oberlin synthesis of the sacred and profane that will secretly bore you even though everyone around you seems really into it. As with any charismatic sect making the leap to respectable religion, we have to ask: Is Part 5 the chapter when The Art of Luv becomes an elaborate excuse for a social club? At least the Two-Buck Chuck at the bar is a welcome alternative to coffee and donuts.