Thursday, October 12, 2006
The graduate students at Brown were going to see bobrauchenbergamerica by the SITI Company at ART last week, and they had an extra ticket, so I tooled along.
I had seen bobrauchenbergamerica a few years ago at BAM, and was eager to see it again. My first experience of the play had been one of twenty minutes of resistance, followed by a surrendering of need for narrative and just going along for the ride. It was bliss. After those first twenty minutes.
This time I would already know how to surrender, Id be ready for it, I'd get those twenty minutes back.
And I got 'em.
I had a whole lotta "oh yeah" moments. It was interesting to note how much of the spectacle, even whole characters, had been wiped from my mind. What I remembered about the show wasn't so much the show itself -- although there were moments that stuck. Who could forget the martini being mixed by bodies on plastic... the pizza delivery boy... the American flag wall with lights for stars...?
But overall, what I remember about that first experience of the work was surrendering. That was the gift. That was the action of the play, or rather, its action on me. Surrender, and being so enthralled by the payoff of surrender that I practically clapped my hands off at the end.
The other difference at BAM was that I was in a free seat very, very far away from the stage. I was perched on a steep rake of a wacky old theater, so far over the house right that I could gaze into the wings. My eyeline was above the top of the proscenium arch. At BAM, bobrauchenbergamerica was a show that played out in a large shoebox. At ART I was much closer, row M, in the center, the stage was clear top to ceiling, no proscenium arch, just lights up there, and the play moved in front of me, at eye level, and I could see their faces. These were people speaking the parts, not animated toys in a diorama.
So at ART I walked in ready to surrender, I walked in remembering my favorite bits, I walked in and sat down.
As it turns out, the peek-a-boo nature of the piece wasn't as much fun the second time. I discovered something else. This time I had time to be with each moment and think about it as it was happening. I could get inside the deeper emotional resonances. Most of all, I was able to see not just the razzle-dazzle zany, I was able to recognize what had been forgotten, what had been wiped away. "Oh yeah."
Not every moment worked as well. Most notably, the Pizza Delivery Boy fell way flat. The first time I saw it this guy, this completely new guy walks into the world of the play. We've been watching this play for an hour, watching a company of actors, and from outta no where this pizza guy delivers a pizza and a soul punching monologue. He delivered it like a dead guy -- like a guy whose soul was dead. And here he was stuck delivering pizza to a world with plastic deer and a red white and blue house and people larger than life. He walked in from outside of the play world and delivered a pizza and a worldclass monologue.
At ART it was a different pizza guy. This was a funny, doughy, jocular pizza guy. This was a pizza guy who would have fit perfectly well living down the road from the other folks in this play. He fit so darn well into the play world that the magnificent, terrifying monologue he was set to deliver seemed trite, seemed forced, but mostly seemed false.
Too bad. So I struggled to remember how it was at BAM, and chose to ignore the goose egg pizza guy at ART.
But then there was my favorite moment. It came. The changing of the lightbulb by the nuclear science guy.
This moment proved even richer than the first time.
Then there were things that surprised me that I had wiped them out of mind. The several versions of chickens, including the guy in the chicken suit. "Oh yeah."
The woman eating cake. "Oh yeah."
The bagpiper. "There was a bagpiper?"
Everyone eating chicken and corn. The fact that they really eat chicken and corn. And when they were really eating chicken and corn at BAM, how David Jaffe forgot himself and said out loud, "They're really eating." "Oh yeah."
This was a good play for me to revisit. It has had an effect on my work since seeing it the first time, and this time I got to take a look at how profound the influence has been.