Steven Drukman

  • Improbable Theater

    Ghosts, poltergeists, sepulchral spirits—these things (which, of course, are not things) are usually treated with an unabashed seriousness in contemporary performance. Whether in the bloodcurdling incantations of Diamanda Galas or in the bloodless formalism of Robert Wilson, the “ghost” haunts the live body onstage without a smile or a wink. But every performative act is, in essence, a ghost story, a séance, haunted by the absence it labors to make present. In the age of mass-media entertainment, the concept of live-ness has become the raison d’être of theater; exposing it as a sham is treated

  • Fiona Templeton

    Fiona Templeton’s most recent performance, Recognition, is both an elegiac tribute to her longtime collaborator, Michael Ratomski, as well as a continuation of her interest in how “real life” is both amplified and obfuscated when re-presented as theater. The oddly cryptic text began as a collaborative examination by Templeton and Ratomski (who died of AIDS in 1994) “of how to understand or represent another’s experience.” Of course, “another’s experience” loses its casualness here, as the experience represented on stage is Ratomski’s own life. (We are also given videotaped glimpses into his

  • Ubu Rock

    It is often remarked that, in 1898, when Pa Ubu brandished a toilet brush and shouted “merdre” at an unsuspecting French audience, the avant-garde was born. One century later, Andrei Belgrader and Shelley Berc’s Ubu Rock, based on Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi, underlines the move from Modernist transgressive shock to post-Modernist parodic glee. More freewheeling romp than Artaudian bit of cruelty, this musical-theater piece, a burlesque of pop-culture quotations, self-reflexivity, and good old-fashioned scatology, blunts what was once cutting edge.

    The “plot” (such as it exists) begins with an

  • Shut Up I Tell You (I Said Shut Up I Tell You)

    In an admittedly spotty theatrical season, the work of Elevator Repair Service, in a whirligig of sideshow-style shenanigans titled Shut up I Tell You (I Said Shut up I Tell You), 1996, stands out not only for its humor and intelligence, but also for its defiant theatricality—in fact, the performance was one of the most intriguing theatrical events I’ve experienced in quite some time. The troupe is fond of low-maintenance props (e.g., a medieval sentry “played” by a plastic skull attached to a broomstick, peering over a folding screen) and set pieces (e.g., tattered vinyl high chairs, carpet

  • Salome

    Like an Aubrey Beardsley sketch come to life, Steven Berkoff’s staging of Oscar Wilde’s Salome unfolds with unabashed decadence. An unholy cadre of sycophantic courtiers rehearse a repertory of hyperstylized gestures, tempo molto lento, to Roger Doyle’s ghostly sonata (played on an upstage piano to sound like Scriabin just before the thunder). While previous stagings (including the overly sincere production starring Al Pacino at Circle in the Square in 1992) have tried too hard to capture the Wilde within, Berkoff follows Wilde’s own delicious maxim that “nothing succeeds like excess.” Like

  • Prisoner of Love

    On a steeply raked, lime green stage, downtown doyenne Ruth Maleczech, who plays Jean Genet in the theatrical adaptation of his posthumously published Prisoner of Love, 1986, capers beneath a crystal chandelier and a plastic tarpaulin, at the very edge of the stage. This behavior literalizes Genet’s assertion that “a border is where human personality expresses itself most fully.” Appropriate, too, is the haze-filled theater space, blurring lines of sight, conjuring the “faint intoxication” of his last book’s maelstrom of lust and power. Director JoAnne Akalaitis and composer Philip Glass—with

  • Laurie Anderson

    In her latest piece, The Nerve Bible, 1995, Laurie Anderson logs into the remotest regions of terra firma and cyberspace, restaging the puckish persona of Home of the Brave, 1985. Broadcasting aphorisms about time, history, and especially mortality, Anderson prances among the simulated girders of her stage set (which at one point resemble an industrial-age Stonehenge) or creates her own mischievous, biomechanical semaphore: she flicks a wrist and we get her voice mail; computers beep, Anderson’s heart beats.

    The title of her piece refers to the human body itself, oddly morphed through Anderson’s

  • Mathew in the School of Life

    Stained-glass tarot cards flanked the set of the Ridge Theater’s multimedia performance Mathew in the School of Life, n.d., flashing and flickering like pinball machines. John Moran (the piece’s author, composer, and protagonist) appeared on stage dressed in classic Star Wars gear, aping Michael Jackson’s moon-walk to a score of soaring strings, vocoded voices, and myriad other sound effects. Replete with pop cultural quotations, “found sound,” slide projections, and educational filmstrips, Mathew in the School of Life played like a primer in performative pastiche. Though billed as a “sci-fi

  • Peter Brook's The Man Who

    The Man Who, directed by Peter Brook, Majestic Theater, BAM

    In An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748), David Hume, the skeptical Scot, wrote that “custom is the great guide of human life,” arguing that quotidian habit is what allows us to believe we have stable, continuous identities. But some of us aren’t that lucky, as theater director Peter Brook shows in The Man Who, his pellucid depiction of neuropathic patients who are “constantly struggling to remake a life instant to instant.” Ironically, perhaps, the work shows Brook continuing a 50-year habit of his own—the habit of using the