Helter Shelter

Los Angeles

Left: A performance view. (Photo: Dean Sameshima) Right: Brian Butler, Daniel Hug, Alessandro Nivola, Emily Mortimer, and Milena Muzquiz. (Photo: Sabina McGrew)

On Thursday night, Los Super Elegantes’ new musical, The Technical Vocabulary of an Interior Decorator, premieres at Daniel Hug Gallery in L.A.’s Chinatown, itself a Disneyfied fantasy neighborhood, at least by comparison to New York’s. Fans of Milena Muzquiz and Martiniano Lopez-Crozet’s theatrical mayhem have turned out in force, among them a passel of New York dealers—Jeffrey Deitch and his lovely assistant, Nikki Vassall, and Amalia Dayan and Stefania Bortolami—as well as Chinatown gallerist Javier Peres (LSE’s last play in L.A., The Falling Leaves of St. Pierre, was staged at Peres Projects), and David Kordansky. The performance is late getting started, and people are milling about in the patio area behind Hug’s gallery, sipping cocktails, gossiping, hooking up. The actors Alessandro Nivola and Emily Mortimer, who starred in The Falling Leaves, supply Hollywood shimmer; plenty of artists complete the scene, among them Kim Fisher, Stephanie Taylor, Aaron Young, Dean Sameshima, and Piero Golia. Finally, sweaty but enthusiastic, the crowd finds seats inside Hug’s gallery, which LSE has tricked up as a trippy mise-en-scene, the stage wrapping around the audience on three sides.

The play begins with publisher Ferrucio Wolf (Lopez-Crozet), having sold his travel magazine Bon Voyage, bemoaning the sad state of his décor. He calls upon visionary decorator Mimi Patino (Muzquiz) for help. The scene then shifts to the decorator’s office. Patino, in a bizarre triple-collared dress suggestive of a Balenciaga schoolmarm, confers with her assistant, played to extraordinarily campy effect by Paul Gellman, who starred in LSE’s 2004 Whitney Biennial extravaganza-on-a-shoestring, Tunga’s House Bar. “Your soft sculpture from Liechtenstein has just arrived,” he announces, his flailing arms encased in the artwork, a small aperture at its center serving as a mouthpiece. A fax has just arrived from one of Mimi's clients—Mimi works only from faxes. The client, a certain Florent, rhapsodizes over the transformative powers of nature. “My interest is less romantic perhaps,” Mimi comments, “but just as accessible. I like to work with manmade debris… gloves, bits of wire, cement. Dumpster. Can you write that down?” Paul then relates the goings-on at the super swell club (indicated by a neon arrow pointing to a hole in the wall and neon script spelling out “The Library”) that Mimi designed some time ago and that coincidentally adjoins Ferrucio’s apartment.

A lot of things happen. Summarizing an LSE performance can be tough. The duo is renowned for its inventive casting: In this instance, party-out-of-bounds L.A. collector Shirley Morales sashays through various scenes, frequently turning to the audience with a frozen smiling face that is just a tad creepy. It’s never quite clear what her role is, except just being fabulous by virtue of being Shirley. (Aside from Mimi and Ferrucio, all the characters go by their own names.) Mimi drags her client around his apartment while her assistants pile books on his hands and feet. Muzquiz explains: “We’re sculpting him. We got a lot of ideas from this ‘70s housewife book about making stuff from found objects. You know, like taking used egg cartons and making veggie dip containers out of them.” Eventually she moves the club kids over to Ferrucio’s apartment to complete the redecoration, viz, the destruction of the entire place. Jenna Curtis—an LSE performance veteran—sits front and center, trembling and wigging out throughout the scene. As she quivers uncontrollably, the partygoers tear the place apart. Mari, queen of the club kids, sponge-paints the walls red using sneakers, which she then nails to the wall, while a projection of Caravaggio’s Medusa’s head flashes on and off. Then the “decorators” collapse in a heap, much like the would-be revolutionaries at the end of Tunga's House Bar.

Left: Jennifer Nocon, Justin Beal, and friend. Middle: Stephen Prina and Alvaro Perdices. Right: Milena Muzquiz, Emi Fontana, and Martiniano Lopez-Crozet. (Photos: Sabina McGrew)

Mimi enters with Ferrucio, who is agog with delight over his refurbished pad. She points out various details, e.g., Mari’s paint splattered sneaker-chic wall, which she describes as a “Bruce Nauman—very extreme.” She hands Ferrucio his bill, reminding him that there is a “thirty percent discount for South American expats,” a self-reflexive moment, I think, as LSE seems to be commenting on their own image and its “destruction” in this work. Studying the bill, Ferrucio collapses in shock, whereupon a voice-over intones some Marxist-sounding blather about “production.” As it happens, this is taken verbatim from Fassbinder’s The Niklashausen Journey, where, as Muzquiz explains, “the hippie guy gives this lecture in a garbage dump to his Christian followers.” The Fassbinder moment is serendipitous. “The destruction, I mean decoration, scene reminded me of The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant,” Bruce Hainley comments. “In virtually every scene of that film, you have that Rubens-type painting backdrop. The way Marti and Milena use Caravaggio’s Medusa’s head seems analogous, a high art emblem for all the decadent shenanigans.” Only one criticism occurs to me: When Ferrucio receives the bill, he shouldn’t react with fainting horror, but instead shrug his shoulders and casually remark, “Not so bad.” Muzquiz responds enthusiastically to my suggestion.

Techincal closes with Lopez-Crozet and Muzquiz lip-synching a new LSE pop song that is a hit on Mexican radio. “It’s sort of like Mimi and Ferrucio are becoming us again at the end,” Muzquiz adds—another self-reflexive gesture? “Everyone says, ‘We love the song,’” she sighs, “I guess there’s no escaping the shaky-shaky-boom-boom appeal of what we do, no matter how much concrete poetry and readymade Marxism we shovel in.”

Afterwards, the cast and friends repair to a party at The Mountain, the Chinatown artist hangout designed by Jorge Pardo. The décor? Red and molten and vaguely Chinese. I never saw chinoiserie I didn’t like—but hey dude, like whatever. “Chinoiserie? More like cucaracharie,” Hainley says. And later still a small group, among them Muzquiz and Lopez-Crozet, decamped for an afterparty in my hotel room. Way fun, but I shudder like Ferrucio when I imagine the minibar bill.