John Howell

  • “Le Bourgeois Avant-Garde”

    For the last fifteen years Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company has sent up every imaginable target, among them such subjects as Richard Wagner (Der Ring Gott Farblonjet), Hamlet (Stage Blood), and soap opera (Love’s Tangled Web). The most recent object of Ridiculous wit is the “avant-garde,” shrewdly chosen at a time when a ’60s-based performing-arts avant-garde has achieved unprecedented and widespread public notice. Of course, artistic director Ludlam is experimental and “avant” too; his rewrite of Molière’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, in a script of stinging wit, bad jokes, topical

  • Falso Movimento, Hesitate and Demonstrate

    Remember the “theater of images,” the catchall phrase describing theater that was more cinematic and painterly than conventionally dramatic? Rooted in the nonlinear ’60s, the works of Richard Foreman, Robert Wilson, and Mabou Mines, among others, grafted the complex machinery and the elliptic, imagistic style of media technology as well as the visual look of contemporary painting and sculpture onto their respective theatrical backgrounds (Bertolt Brecht,Samuel Beckett, Jerzy Grotowski, performance art). This provocative and still vital idea appeared in its current European version in recent

  • Luigi Ontani and Joan Jonas

    Both Luigi Ontani and Joan Jonas rummage in folklore, fairy tales, and finally world culture as if shopping in a flea market of the collective unconscious, looking for items to combine with autobiography to create contemporary mythical personae. Both use mixed media, costumes and masks, and environmental constructions to present this old wine in new skins, imagistic formal containers which are intended to re-ferment their elemental psychological contents. And both recently presented performances that showed some of the problems this promising idea seems to be stumbling over.

    Ontani’s neo-myths

  • Laurie Anderson

    One could claim that Laurie Anderson is a second-generation, card-carrying conceptualist by simply sketching the outline of her United States Parts I–IV, a six-hour anthology of 78 performance bits from her last seven years of performing. “Numbers count,” this double-talking allusionist might say, and in this epic case they add up to both more and less than their large sums.

    Since her first significant performance, As: If, 1974, Anderson’s work has been remarkably consistent. Like all major artists she repeatedly, obsessively treats a handful of themes: technology, urban daily life, alienation,

  • Diamanda Galas

    Music is both a way to form the soul (Plato) and a force to get the mojo working (Muddy Waters), and the history of wordless vocal music is the record of a persistent, pure form of these impulses to rock the spirit. From the songs of Homer’s Sirens to Ella Fitzgerald’s scat, the idea of the naked voice uttering abstract sounds in viscerally rhythmic patterns has seemed to offer a visionary distillation of music’s ultimate power. The ritualistic keenings of Meredith Monk, the spontaneous utterances of Jana Haimsohn, and the complex sounds of Joan LaBarbara are specifically female expressions of

  • Robert Whitman

    Like his early-’60s Happenings, Robert Whitman’s new performance, Raincover, is a magic theater of ordinary objects gone strange. This is a contemporary mystery play in which the “story” emerges from mixed media imagery laid out in a dream-time and a dream-space of distorted dimensions. In Whitman’s theater, things are players which enforce their “thingness”; they are displayed, manipulated, and often animated as if they had autonomous life. Unlike Alain Robbe-Grillet’s sterile landscape of things (his Notes for a New Novel was a widely circulated antimetaphorical manifesto in early-’60s art

  • John Malpede

    The one-person show has been a staple of performance from the start—like the solo turn in theater, a pure breath of personal expression. In the late ’70s one-artist live shows began to include mixed media—film, slides, audiotape, musical and electronic instruments, video—to expand the range and capabilities of the solo vision. These high tech performances have grown up into something like live movies (the most sophisticated example so far is Laurie Anderson’s complex yet still homemade multimedia extravaganzas). Now, the inevitable reaction has emerged in “poor theater” performance, in which

  • Ann Magnuson

    Ann Magnuson, prime mover of the early Club 57 performances, queen of theme-night events around town, and curator of variety shows like last season’s “Performance Rites” at P.S. 1 (four Sundays of “serious fun” with some hundred performers), has lately been perfecting and presenting a repertory of solo pieces. These “characters” are caricatures of female roles drawn from pop culture—more specifically, from pop media. There’s “Tammy Fay,” a gospel singer modeled after the PTL “Praise The Lord” Club TV hostess; a foul-mouthed Hollywood starlet; and a rock chick who fronts a heavy-metal band called

  • “Two Titled”

    “Two Titled” was the moniker for a twin bill of performance playlets, Bissie at the Baths and Counter Angel, presented by the Los Angeles group, Pop-Up Productions. Each was a monologue for a female writer/performer in a life-size setting modeled after the pop-up scenery of children’s books; the cartoonlike qualities of these environments with figures unavoidably also referred to Red Grooms and Roy Lichtenstein. The Pop-Up versions successfully straddled the sculpture/set fence, being quirky and detailed enough to be interesting in themselves, and theatrically specific enough to work as performance

  • Fiona Templeton

    For the past several summers Creative Time, Inc., has presented an installation-and-performance program on the Battery Park City landfill, a Nelson Rockefeller-era dream which will eventually house some 30,000 new downtown New Yorkers. This odd, urban, ersatz beach—acres of empty, sandy flats—is an imposing location, and some invited artists have simply marked off an area for their artwork or performance and allowed the unusual ambience to function as an atypical backdrop spicing up typical work. Other artists have been more provocative, mapping out and presenting site-specific pieces for this

  • Eric Bogosian

    For the last several years Eric Bogosian has presented two solo performances, Men Inside and Voices of America, in casual performance spaces like Inroads, P.S. 122, Club 57, and Franklin Furnace. Throughout July he performed the two as a twin bill every Thursday in the more formally theatrical space of the Public Theater’s Martinson Hall, and, as with most nontraditional performance, the import of his work shifted along with its context. These partly improvised, constantly re-ordered collections of short “bits” appeared more polished and sometimes more provocative than the downtown—Saturday

  • Steve Paxton and Lucinda Childs

    Choreographers Steve Paxton and Lucinda Childs, noted alumni of the Judson Dance Theater, have been known for their tightly structured studies of unusual movement events. Beginning in the early ’60s both of them choreographically scored ordinary and bizarre activity to create a radical performance mode: by just doing carefully arranged, singular physical tasks, they generated a novel, antitheatrical brand of dance drama. Recently Paxton and Childs presented solo works, on separate programs, which showed how they have altered that influential performance esthetic. Now both artists more openly