Cynthia Carr

  • THIS IS ONLY A TEST: CHRIS BURDEN

    THE IMAGE MOST EMBLEMATIC of ’70s body art has the rough panicky blur of a news photo. Faces are unrecognizable. So is the rifle. And the artist’s description of the action is a simple dispassionate observation: “At 7:45 P.M., I was shot in the left arm by a friend. . . . ” Chris Burden took his risks in the manner of a scientist—one who decides that he must test a new serum on himself alone, who later declares that he always knew it would work. When he stopped performing, Burden began to exhibit machines and war toys and installations. The project, however, had remained the same: to demythologize

  • Leo Bassi, Nero's Last Folly

    Leo Bassi began by complaining about the description of him as “Italy’s favorite clown-terrorist,” maintaining that if such a title belonged to anyone, it was Mussolini. Behind the vaudevillian veneer, however, Bassi’s show examined the power dynamic in a performer/audience relationship, revealing it to be much like that between dictator and silent majority. We, the spectators, were soon implicated in our willingness to remain passive, to be dominated. After all, we’d come to the theater knowing that in every performance, Bassi hits one spectator in the face with a cream pie and threatens to

  • Constance DeJong and Tony Oursler, Relatives

    This collaboration between writer Constance DeJong and video artist Tony Oursler tells the story of the fictional McCloud family. The clan springs full-grown from the image bank, where each has contributed in some small way to the history of representation: great-grandmother modeled for Albert Pinkham Ryder; grandmother worked as a Hollywood extra; an older sister dubs kung fu movies into English, and so on. DeJong stands next to a television monitor, talking to or about these “relatives” on the screen. What we see is not them, but the images they have generated. The subtexts to their life

  • Doug Elkins Dance Company

    There’s little subtlety in a hopped-up hormone, so appropriately Doug Elkins’ The Testosterone Diversions, 1988, began with a knockdown drag-out duet. Two burly male dancers in coonskin caps and biker pants caromed around the stage after fixing “I dare you” smirks on the audience. They slammed into each other or thudded to the floor, as if expecting to hit a trampoline. Movements that could have passed for “dancerly” they neutralized by wiping noses with the backs of their hands. They ran the short gamut of movement possibilities between samurai and linebacker, and the sequence ended with one

  • LAPD Inspects America

    Beyond the big orange sign where the word “NOT” had been inserted between the words “MEN“ and “WORKING,” a few traffic safety cones dotted the stage. Indeed, the audience would witness a few wrecks and some de- (not re-) constructions during this performance. LAPD Inspects America shattered boundaries with the grace of a runaway garbage truck, making it difficult, first of all, to know even when the show had begun. A prerecorded voice described the act we were about to see as “a delicate balance between a volatile street lifestyle and the actors’ tender hearts,” while a couple of those actors

  • Guillermo Gomez-Pena

    In his performances and manifestos, “border artist” Guillermo Gómez-Peña describes the fissure between two worlds that he inhabits. Geographically, that means Tijuana/San Diego, but to this artist interested in “alternative cartographies,” the more important space is metaphoric, one closer to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s “thousand plateaus” than to a landscape with mesas. In Border Brujo, 1988, Gómez-Peña wore a border-guard jacket covered with signifying buttons (political slogans, Michael Jackson’s face, toy sheriffs badges), a necklace of plastic bananas, a straw hat, and a pigtail.

  • AIDS Alive

    To watch the People With AIDS Theater Workshop is to see two dramas unfolding, because AIDS Alive is all pretend and yet it isn’t. Each actor is a Person With AIDS (PWA) who signifies a Person With AIDS, who’s really caught in the circumstance he’s pretending to be caught in. For these performers we don’t suspend our disbelief; they are not Hamlets who walk away once the curtain falls. Knowing this creates the show’s drama and meaning.

    This relentlessly upbeat revue skates along with the energy of Andy Hardy announcing,“Have we got a show for you.” AIDS Alive is old-fashioned story theater—breezy,

  • Karen Finley

    Karen Finley’s monologues represent obscenity in its purest form—an attempt to explore feelings for which there are perhaps no words, and certainly no polite ones. Whatever the identity she assumes onstage—as gender, persona, and narrative slip and slide—she’s talking transgression.

    At a late-night show she’d ironically labeled her “Greatest Hits,” Finley performed her most (in)famous acts of the last several years. Each piece involved the creation of a distinct persona—in I’m an Ass Man, 1985, she becomes a man, a rapist, disgusted that his victim is having her period; in The Neighbor’s Cock,

  • THE MIRROR TURNED LAMP

    LILY TOMLIN WAS ONSTAGE walking a new character into the show, not yet “acting.” But even as she spoke the lines flat, the character’s body appeared. There was that confident knees-bent stance of someone carrying what he knows he can carry. Tomlin had found his center of gravity, the energy that—without props or costume changes—would set Paul the bodybuilder apart from the other thirteen characters in The Search For Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe.

    Tomlin and Jane Wagner, the play’s writer/director, blocked out moments where they might insert him. The bodybuilder’s stance shifted up