COLUMNS

  • TRUE CRIME

    AT THE TOP of Thomas Ostermeier’s History of Violence, the German theater director’s adaptation of Édouard Louis’s 2016 autobiographical novel, three performers clad head to toe in protective hoods and coveralls mark the stage as a crime scene, placing numbered placards at points across the floor. As one begins to dust for fingerprints, another records the procedure on video, live-streaming it in close-up onto a stark white wall looming behind them. Soon, an ominous image of a brush stirring up a cloud of fine powder dissolves into one of falling snow. It is Christmas in Paris and Édouard is

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  • No Man’s Land

    IN THE PHYSICAL SENSE, there is very little in Richard Maxwell’s play, Queens Row. His approach to directing actors has always appeared to be an act of distillation: Eliminating the excesses of dramatic interpretation so that actors speak and are heard not for the force of their conviction—a programmed contrivance of the meta-script which constitutes popular performance—but for their commitment to stilling the physical body in lieu of more obvious psychologically-motivated behaviors. No tics, unless required explicitly by the text. No histrionics. Pure presence.

    In the eighteen years since I saw

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  • Burn Notice

    “IF I AM A BUTTERFLY,” Zapotec performer Lukás Avendaño exclaimed to a rapt audience in the fourth floor black box of Performance Space New York late last Sunday afternoon, “maybe I don’t need a passport.” He was explaining the title of his film La utopía de la mariposa (The Butterfly’s Utopia), 2019, which documents his life as a Muxe artist as well as his search for a missing brother. While much of the performance world was careening rapidly from one American Performing Arts Professionals showcase to another this past month, Avendaño was evoking the spirit of Indigenous gathering at “Knowledge

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  • You Better WeWork

    I HATE CHILDREN. I feel bad about this, of course. My sister has a couple, my friends have others; I was once one myself. Yet only the occasional spike of terror about my own steadily approaching death has ever made me want one. Who wouldn’t like to have a captive audience for their ill-informed theories of everything, or at least an in-house caretaker when one’s brain goes? But those don’t seem like super honorable reasons for taking on the project, although they might be common ones, confessed to or otherwise.

    Last Sunday, however, my aversion to children was overcome by my love of Ei Arakawa.

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  • Action Figures

    NOVEMBER WAS THE MONTH of overscheduled evenings, stacked with events sprawling across three weeks and forty venues for the eighth iteration of Performa. The brainchild of RoseLee Goldberg, the biennial has since 2005 promoted the field of performance art as a coherent subdiscipline of the visual arts, drawing on histories of the avant-garde to firmly tie the field’s lineage to art history. In fact, it is Performa’s habit to produce new commissions undertaken by visual artists with little experience in live media (at the expense, often, of supporting practitioners already active in this domain),

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  • Jennifer Krasinski

    A PERFORMANCE must be believed to be seen. I likely hang its appearance on an act of faith because I—raised Catholic in the Midwest—received my first exposure to theater by watching men in elaborately brocaded dresses conduct mass every Sunday. (As it turns out, church was also my primer on camp.) Applause was inappropriate, prayer was encouraged, and many years later the two otherwise adverse gestures still share a synapse in my head, one standing in for the other—sometimes.

    Which brings me to the frigid Friday in January when I arrived at a Shabbat dinner hosted by comedic singer-songwriter

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  • What’s Cooking?

    GOING TO THE THEATER can be a lot like going to a party. When good, similar pleasures are on offer: diversion, excitement, even uplift. For some fixed amount of time, we forget about the drab minutia of our daily lives. We can feel that we are part of a community, though we know it’s only a temporary one: we’re unlikely to ever see the strangers in the room again. When bad, both a performance and a party can make us desperate to leave, to escape the painful phoniness, the noise, the shouting, the bad behavior, and the palpable feeling of being trapped.

    Sometimes (actually, never) something gets

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  • Kosmic Inflation

    “YOU HAVEN’T GIVEN UP / ON A WORLD HAVE YOU?” asked Bernadette Mayer in the epilogue to a slim volume of poems titled Utopia (1984). “You know traditional utopias are no place / as ours will ever be,” she continued, entreating whomever so wished to “add all you would to / what is already here / together we will put / things on paper that / ‘ve never been there.” Mayer found utopia in social formations, love, and friendship, playfully staging its trials and tribulations in the pages of her book. Utopian thinking, both as narrative conceit and as practice of social imagination, similarly informs

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  • Beyond These Kastle Walls

    “LET THE LIGHT FROM YOUR CUNT AND ASSHOLE lead you to the promised land!” shrieked a zombified Valerie Solanas last Thursday night at Icebox Project Space as she shepherded me and a group of undergraduates toward the dulcet tones of singer Gretchen Phillips, who offered a “didactic stroll down the beautiful repertoire of lesbian folk songs,” immediately breaking out in a rendition of Britney Spears’s “Hit Me Baby One More Time.” The undead Solanas was one of several characters who occupied North Philadelphia’s Icebox Project Space for three weeks in October as part of Killjoy’s Kastle, a roving

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  • Here Comes the Son

    AS A THEATER PRACTIONER who has participated in the presentation of work at major museums in New York City and Europe, I’m no stranger to how the art world loves “hybrid” works of performance, which usually means the poor medium gets run through the blender of conceptualism in the name of some opaque inquiry, only to be spat back out in a so-called novel gesture. Reductions of theater to “performance” are often also thin, begging the question: How does an art practice grow when the porous social exchanges that feed its makers emotionally and aesthetically have been so utterly misappropriated by

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  • Tell It Like It Is

    STATISTICS TELL US THAT, at any given time, someone in our immediate vicinity has been raped—someone in our classroom, our office, someone ahead of us in line for coffee, or next to us on the subway. Which means, necessarily, that someone in our immediate vicinity has committed rape. We just prefer not to think that way, not to put the verb in the active tense, to consider that anyone—say, a fellow audience member watching Adrienne Truscott’s (Still) Asking For It on a Monday night—might have committed sexual assault. That would make rape a normal thing to do.

    Which it is, as Truscott forcefully

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  • Dancing in the Dark

    “GOD TOOK NO PLEASURE IN HER.” A nod or some form of unbidden recognition ran through me. She was made to die, or allowed to die; in either case, she refused her fate, punching through wet earth from grave toward unaccommodating sky. Obstinate, the hand could be mastered only by the one who had borne it; the mother was swift and unhesitating with the rod—and so the buried girl stopped moving for good. 

    This story, The Willful Child, by the Brothers Grimm, haunts Ligia Lewis’s Water Will (in Melody), 2018. Water Will is the third in a trilogy of stage works, each of which wrestles with one color

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