VIEWPOINTS – UNDER THE RADAR 2018: A Festival Recap, Part 2

Today marks the final day of the Public Theater’s 2018 edition of its Under the Radar Festival. Here are my thoughts on six more shows. All in all, its been one thrilling roller coaster of an experience, as expected!



Teatro El Público's "Antigonon, un Contingente Épico"

Teatro El Público’s “Antigonon, un Contingente Épico”

(Teatro El Público)

Let me upfront about it: I did not have a good time at Antigonon, un Contingente Épico, a production from Havana’s premiere purveyor of experimental theater, Teatro El Público. Performed in Spanish with English titles, perhaps something was lost in translation. Whatever the case, I thought playwright Rogelio Orizondo’s confounding petri dish of a show – combining Greek tragedy, Cuban history, and subversive revolutionary sentiments – was juvenile and rudderless. Luckily, it’s directed with an adventurous and quirky sense of style by Carlos Díaz (those fabulous costumes!) and performed with fierce commitment by its attractive cast of five – Daysi Forcades, Clara González, Luis Manuel Álvarez, Roberto Espinosa, and Linnet Hernández.




CalArts School of Theater Production of Roger Guenveur Smith's "The Hendrix Project"

CalArts School of Theater Production of Roger Guenveur Smith’s “The Hendrix Project”

(Roger Guenveur Smith & CalArts Center for New Performance)

Another unfortunate entry in this year’s Under the Radar Festival was The Hendrix Project at BRIC House in Brooklyn. Directed by Roger Guenveur Smith as a piece of wordless physical theater, the show depicts the upper balcony of New York City’s now-defunct Fillmore East. The year: 1969. The occasion: Jimi Hendrix plays a New Year’s Eve concert, now legendary, shortly before his death. Mr. Smith has his appealing young cast (kudos to Samantha Bartow, Morgan Camper, Hannah Cruz, Jasmine Gatewood, Heaven Gonzalez, Ariyan Kassam, Liam O’Donnell, Dante Rossi, Henita Telo, Max Udell, Ieva Vizgirdaite, and Christopher Wentworth) move in slow motion to the soundtrack of that concert, nothing more, nothing less. The effect, perhaps intended, was akin to watching paint dry. Luckily, the production was fun to look at; it’s wonderfully designed by Levi Lack (sets), Cameron Pieratt (lighting), and Maggie Clapis (costumes) with a keen sense for period detail.




David Cale's "We're Only Alive for a Short Amount of Time".

David Cale’s “We’re Only Alive for a Short Amount of Time”.

(David Cale)

David Cale had a hit earlier this season as a playwright with Harry Clarke, a one-man show starring a sensational Billy Crudup at the Vineyard Theatre. Now Mr. Cale is back in action with a defiant, fact-is-stranger-than-fiction memoir, a work-in-progress, entitled We’re Only Alive for a Short Amount of Time at the Under the Radar Festival. Written and performed by David Cale and directed by Tony Speciale, the show in its current form is touching, soulful, and often very funny. The piece could shave off 20 minutes or so, but that will come in time.  We’re Only Alive also features songs by Mr. Cale, and they’re a hypnotic set, reminiscent of the sing-songy style of Kurt Weill (the excellent arrangements and underscoring is by Matthew Dean Marsh). But already, the piece is a special experience, certainly worthy of your time and engagement.




Nature Theater of Oklahoma and EnKnapGroup's "Pursuit of Happiness"

Nature Theater of Oklahoma and EnKnapGroup’s “Pursuit of Happiness”

(Nature Theater of Oklahoma & EnKnapGroup)

One of the zaniest, and successful, adventures I had at this year’s festival was a bizarre, hilariously cynical show called Pursuit of Happiness (the show’s layered concept, text and direction are by Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper), an unlikely but potent collaboration between notable experimental theater company Nature Theater of Oklahoma and the Slovenian contemporary dance company EnKnapGroup. Performed by a mostly-European cast (cast members hailed from Sweden, Hungary, Slovenia, Belgium, and Croatia), the show ironically and satirically sends up the genre of the American Western, as well as modern-day warfare in the Middle East. It also pokes fun at themselves – experimental theater and dance makers and performers. In this world, nothing is sacred nor important. As an allegory for our current times, that’s a scary thought, given its implications for inherent instability. Pursuit of Happiness is smart stuff, and it made for provocative theater that proved in equal measure entertaining.





Janek Turkowski's "Margarete"

Janek Turkowski’s “Margarete”

(Janek Turkowski)

Yesterday afternoon, I caught Margarete, Janek Turkowski’s obsessive one-man documentary theater piece about the reconstruction a woman’s life from the reels of 8mm film he purchased, at a bargain price, at a German market. Performed by Mr. Turkowski himself, the show is also a low-key meditation on the relationship between images and memory. As a piece of “archeological” theater, the piece reminded me of another show in town, Alison S. M. Kobayashi’s superlative Say Something Bunny!. However, unlike that show, Margarete lacked the driving theatricality and sophisticated associations that makes Bunny such a peerless experience. As it is, Mr. Turkowski’s Margarete is a lightweight, agreeable, and homely – albeit dryly humorous – experience. It’s as unassuming and plain as it presents itself to be.




Split Britches' "Unexploded Ordnances (UXO)"

Split Britches’ “Unexploded Ordnances (UXO)”

(Split Britches)

Finishing up my 2018 Under the Radar experience was La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club’s production, in association with Split Britches, of Lois Weaver, Peggy Shaw and Hannah Maxwell’s Unexploded Ordnances (UXO)On paper, the concept of the show is very enticing – associating the “Doctor Strangeglove” doomsday scenario with aging and our current sense of general anxiety. Indeed, at some inevitable point in the future, things will go “boom” – how and when, undetermined – and the world will never be the same (if we’re still around). I applaud Split Britches’ celebration of the elder statesman’s (i.e., post-retirement) perspective. Lois Weaver, in particular, is a brilliant performer of a certain age, and she possesses a mind that’s as sharp as they come, regardless of age. However, the show in performance falls somewhat short on execution and feels a tad excessive. Nevertheless, Unexploded Ordnances is worth visiting to expose oneself to points of view that are unfortunately marginalized in today’s world. With a little shaping, this one can be truly smashing.



The Public Theater, in association with other institutions
Through January 15

Categories: Broadway, Dance, Theater

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