COLUMNS

  • Heart and Home

    TWO ONLINE PERFORMANCES earlier this summer—a reading of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town by the National Asian American Theater Company (NAATCO), and Xiomara Sebas Castro Niculescu’s A Domestic; Cut, presented by danilo machado and Claire Kim as part of Stream/line Artist Residency—conducted serious conversations with the deceased while wisely refusing the dueling lures of nostalgia and better tomorrows. On the surface, these two projects couldn’t be more different—one, wholesome, the other, salacious—but both demanded a strangely profound patience with time itself.

    No longer solely the province of

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  • This Is Water

    OUR LANGUAGE for physically slow performance has been tainted by the residue of familiar associations. Sidecar words like “delicate” and “calm” attach themselves to descriptions of performances just because they’re filled with only a handful of events. Time, created by composer Ryuichi Sakamoto and Shiro Takatani, artist and founder of Dumb Type, moves slowly, yes, but it is inflamed, an emotional flaying at a snail’s pace, a psychic oven walled with black glass and set to a steady 200 degrees. For almost 70 minutes, Min Tanaka, a dancer trained in the improvisational Butoh style, moves in and

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  • Disorderly Conduct

    THIS IS IMPROVISATION,” Butch Morris says emphatically to an ensemble during a heated rehearsal. He continues, “This is collective improvisation. This is Conduction. This is conducted improvisation. This isn’t necessarily free music. This has a focus and I am the focus.” This moment—found in an uncredited YouTube clip likely filmed in the 1980s at the Alternative Museum in New York—effectively demonstrates the genius of Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris. To encounter the late improvisational virtuoso, theorist, conductor, composer, and performer in motion is to tangle with Conduction®, the rigorous

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  • Spirit of the Age

    BEFORE SITTING DOWN AT MY DESK for the inaugural evening of the Public Theater’s digital edition of its annual Under the Radar Festival, I scroll through my phone, looking at costumed marauders storming the Capitol Building. The pictures depict smiling Vikings, Confederate and Revolutionary war soldiers, Captain America as a paratrooper holding a straw broom. Is he a warlock, or a street-sweeper? There are enough mixed metaphors for heroism to make your head explode, and I am struck by how desperate people are for cosplay, their imaginations totally warped by popular fictions.

    It’s not the most

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  • Perfect Stranger

    IN A PARTICULARLY telling moment of the Pomodori Foundation’s 1993 production Queer and Alone, based on the eponymous 1987 novel-cum-travelogue by Jim Strahs, the ne’er-do-well narrator Desmond Farrquahr (Greg Mehrten) finds himself in an intimate conversation with one of his primary nemeses, Miss Deborah Springman (Ann Rower). It’s 1979 and Desmond is mysteriously en route to Hong Kong, along with a passel of morally questionable “travel rats,” whose exploits he recounts with varying tones of amusement, scorn, and outrage over the course of the show’s sixty minutes. Having arrived somewhere in

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  • Full Circle

    IN THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY, San Carlo al Lazzaretto was built as a field altar that permitted plague victims to eat of the body and drink of the blood in open air. Two Fridays ago, the church was hemmed in not by the sick, but by loud bargoers unaware of a different form of communion taking place inside. It was the twenty-fifth day of Ragnar Kjartansson’s durational performance The Sky in a Room and the beginning of the end of a summer lull in Milan’s coronavirus cases. A human-sized condom cutout flanked a mobile STD clinic in the church plaza, its cartoonish smile suggesting: We’re all fucked.

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  • Nun of the Above

    AT 8 PM ON A WARM, Thursday night, a crowd of twenty arrives in a virtual room for a Zoom performance of composer, cellist, and writer Ethan Philbrick’s Disordo Virtutum, presented by New York’s Museum of Arts and Design. With varying degrees of surprise and pleasure, I find that some attendees are familiar to me. I see a former lover, an artist with whom I have made small talk on several occasions, and a choreographer I once had a shy first date with over greasy pasta at a small Italian restaurant in Ridgewood. (Today we’re friends; she’ll text me after the show.) Curator Lydia Brawner is there

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  • Talk to Me

    THE ARTIST’S TALK CAN BE A DULL AFFAIR: a PowerPoint presentation attesting to careerism and credentialization, an exposition of past and current projects and institutional engagements, uninspired commentary by an artist who seemed fascinating at a distance. The contemporary circuitry of MFA visiting lectureships alone harks back to the form’s origins in academic professionalization, which has largely become a requirement for critical and commercial success despite the unbearable (and unjustifiable) burden of graduate school tuition. Born out of boredom with this standardization of the lecture

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  • Weak House

    ON APRIL FOOL’S DAY, around two weeks into my quarantine in Spain, I attended a comedy show: thirty minutes of new material by Maria Bamford, provisionally titled The New Material Show, broadcast live and for free via Zoom from her home in Los Angeles. A couple of hours before showtime, I received an email which began with a caveat that doubled as an enticement: “Instead of comedy, this may feel uncomfortable.”

    Bamford is no stranger to discomfort, or to working from home. Her comedy, whose predominant themes are family and mental illness, has often availed itself to a kind of self-imposed house

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  • Down Time

    FOR THE LAST FEW DAYS—between applying coats of linseed oil to my newly stripped desk and walking my dog up and down the block, maintaining six feet of distance from the other stragglers walking their own in this ominous time—I have been dipping in and out of the Trickle Up: NYC Artist Network, a subscription video platform launched on March 23 by Taylor Mac, Kristin Marting, Morgan Jenness, Emily Morse, Niegel Smith, and other leaders of the downtown theater scene. The goal of the project is to share unique missives from NYC artists as a way to gain 10,000 subscribers at $10 a month for the

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  • 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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