First Night

24 Jan

Another day in the library— I’m discovering how hard it is to just watch theatre on DVD or video. It’s exhausting, being in 2 mindsets at once– live and recorded. But this show (First Night made in 2001) was great. The idea was a bad vaudeville performance. The performers (5 men, 3 women) come out on stage in glittery frocks and bad checked suits, with bad make-up, and stand in a line and smile at the audience. Very cheesily. For quite a long time. The show is loosely composed of a series of bad vaudeville acts: A woman stands on a chair in a bathing suit covered in balloons and punctures them, one by one, with a cigarette.
Her posture is bored and vacant and it’s about as sexy as watching a goldfish swim around a dirty bowl.

Another recurring piece of schtick is the ventriloquists’ act, where Richard (one bad check suit) has Robin (another) in a headlock with Robin’s arm around Richard’s waist. Robin, who is hunched over with his head painfully squished in Richard’s armpit, is clearly in pain, and Richard controls his “dummy” by pushing his fingers back. The show in fact begins with Richard going to get his “dummy” from backstage, since clearly no-one wants to speak, and placing his head at the crotch-high mic to introduce the show.

The stage is a red box, defined by the classic bad theatre red curtains at back and front and sides. Between acts actors escape backstage through these curtains. The show is full of entrances and exits and is very funny and awful in its staginess. When the actors exit, they walk backwards, keeping their smiles on, facing the audience.

One of the first collective routine involves the actors all taking the stage, after the Introduction (by the suffering ventriloquists” dummy” blindfolded. They do a version of a late-Victorian parlour sequence of psychic predictions involving the audience. The tone slowly shifts from light “I’m getting the color brown”
“I’m getting arthritis” “Im getting a sense of great… loss. Car keys?” “Has someone in the audience lost their mother? [pause] Or their father? [pause] Or an uncle? [pause] Or read about a death in the newspaaper?” “I’m getting sex. From the front and from the back”. This is all very amusing, but then “There’s a member of the audience with a teenage daughter. She’s really worrying— her friends, her attitudes, her clothes. Well, don’t worry. She’ll be dead by Xmas”. It ends up at the end of this slippery slide with just Cathy on stage (no longer blindfolded) telling everyone how they will die. “Cancer. Suicide. Pulmonary thrombosis. Car crash. Drowning. Slit wrists. Old age..” IN a recurring motif of Forced Entertainment, this goes on longer than a joke. VEry much longer.

Between the vaudeville acts (a terrible joke sequence with none of the jokes having a point— a series of shaggy dog tales lurching from “There were five midgets— no nuns. There were five nuns in a car….) come lists. One such list, as they stand in a line, is recited by Terry: she exhorts the audience to forget everything outside the theatre. Forget drinks and cigarettes. Forget cars. And car-crashes. And regrets… It goes on and on and on, and it’s very funny. The things to forget are mostly awful, depressing.

This show really pushes and plays with the audience/ performer contract and in a way I found really effective. It pushed at the cruelty underneath humor and the sexualized voyeurism of the audience/ performer relationship. Tomorrow I will post more detailed coherent notes of the show.

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2 Responses to “First Night”

  1. Rick Massimo January 24, 2007 at 10:09 pm #

    This sounds fantastic. I don’t just want to see these guys; I want to join them.

  2. xtine3 January 25, 2007 at 5:34 pm #

    Yes, I know what you mean. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t quite, but they are always engaged in a struggle to the death with theatre itself. And playing with the stage-audience line in interesting ways. I really think their process is key to what they do, in that they create material and then watch it– constantly stepping back and forth across the line of performer/ viewer. Always: What might appear in the space of the stage? What could happen here? Not: What story do I want to tell?– although many stories do end up getting told, but they have the fractal and inconclusive quality of daily life. Incremental, repetitive, seemingly laden with signficance that slips away.

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