• the Festival d’Avignon

    IT WAS ONLY DURING the brief rendition of a 1977 performance piece by Marina Abramović, in which five couples sat and slapped each other’s faces faster and harder over several minutes, that I began to understand the state of contemporary theater.

    I was in Avignon for the annual theater festival, which has been held there each summer since 1947 and remains ground zero for the European theater world. The identity crisis under which theater strains, or so its critics say, was in ample evidence. Audiences booed, cursed, and awarded rapturous ovations for the twenty-three works presented, with opinions

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  • Matt Saunders on Jonathan Meese’s Mother Parsifal

    AT THE END of John Boorman’s 1974 cult film Zardoz, Sean Connery and Charlotte Rampling sit in a cave and age quickly through the rest of their lives while Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony booms. The cuts move with the music, so each new phrase of orchestral high Kultur seems to bury them deeper under campy pancake and latex. As pretentious tableau, it pits lifetime against geological time, and as eccentric comedy, it transforms the two sex symbols into Pirate’s Cove theme-park skeletons. From Jonathan Meese, I expected something of the same.

    Jonathan Meese Is Mother Parsifal set the young artist

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  • Tracy + the Plastics

    IT WAS UNCLEAR just when the show officially started. Nikki was the first band member to arrive. While the audience got settled, she was busy alternately drinking from a teacup and attempting the apparently vexing art of getting both arms into her jacket. Eventually Tracy and Cola showed up, visibly peeved and wanting to know why Nikki had missed band practice earlier in the day. She’d been practicing, Nikki replied a little haughtily: busy “practicing drinking tea like a lesbian,” “practicing putting on my coat like a lesbian,” “practicing standing next to a stranger like a lesbian.” The list

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  • Christoph Schlingensief

    “TO LET ONESELF BE EATEN is one method. The other is to rot away and thereby give birth to new worms. For the moment I tend toward the first method,” an exalted Christoph Schlingensief, German theater’s most eminent provocateur, told me last July, just a few weeks before the premiere of his production of Parsifal. I was inclined to agree. From a metaphysical point of view he had the biggest job in the business: The opera festival that opens every summer in the small Bavarian town of Bayreuth was originally financed in 1876 by oddball King Ludwig II and given the philosophical blessing of none

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  • Jonathan Gilmore on William Kentridge’s Ritorno d’Ulisse

    ALTHOUGH IT STANDS as a paradigm of a Gesamtkunstwerk, opera has largely relegated the visual arts to only a subsidiary role: as costume, scene, and setting, both literal and figurative background to the expressive voice. In William Kentridge’s multimedia production of Monteverdi’s 1640 masterwork Il Ritorno d’Ulisse (which premiered in New York in March), this hierarchy is undone. For here, as in several other theater productions he has directed (Ubu and the Truth Commission, 1997; Woyzeck on the Highveld, 1992; Faustus in Africa!, 1995; Zeno at 4 a.m., 2001), Kentridge does not so much clothe

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  • Bob Nickas on Leigh Bowery

    “IT WAS A BIT LIKE GOING to the zoo and watching Guy the Gorilla in drag.” That’s how Cerith Wyn Evans recalls Leigh Bowery’s weeklong London performance at Anthony d’Offay Gallery in 1988. Bowery, each day in a different costume of his own design, appeared behind a one-way mirror, with an Empire divan on which to perch, pose, or recline. Visitors saw him, but he saw only himself, performed for his own reflection. Footage of the event figures prominently in The Legend of Leigh Bowery (2002), Charles Atlas’s recently unveiled documentary, and the spooky, otherworldly spell that Bowery casts is

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  • the Five Lesbian Brothers

    Bitter jealousy, glorious revenge, corrupted innocence—these are the tropes of an emerging pulp lesbian sensibility that traffics in the tawdry castoffs of ’50s and ’60s American pop culture. The territory of fanzines, girl bands, and a host of recent artists and writers, this self-consciously downbeat vision salvages its images from a mélange of bad plays, pop psych, and supermarket novels from Ann Bannon to Jacqueline Susann. Trashy, melodramatic, and trading on irony, its seductions collide with more familiar aims of gay cultural politics: countering the stereotype, fighting misrepresentation,

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