New York

Eric Bogosian

Franklin Furnace

Men Inside was a 45-minute solo performance by Eric Bogosian, whose work has for several years been concerned with male/female sexual relations. Gender was the central theme in his most recent piece, which was composed of 15 short monologues describing desires, attitudes, actions and self-images of 12 male characters.

Bogosian used no elaborate set, only a raised platform with a chair and a few other props on it. The artist was dressed in a simple sweater, suit and tie. Working with gesture, body language, voice, light and occasionally music to which he would dance, Bogosian transformed himself into various characters: a nightclub singer/comedian, a street tough, a swinging single, a happily married man, a heroin addict, a cat-loving homebody, an impotent lover, a rodeo rider, a rock star and so on.

There were no female characters in this work, but their absence was a strong presence; they were the women behind the men. Sexism in its many forms was the leitmotif of this piece. The nightclub comedian, for instance, defensively screamed that he loved women, while describing a dream about having them whipped in a slave ship. Bogosian’s depictions of these states of mind were realistic but ironic. Those segments of the piece that made no reference to women—a street tough’s monologue and a harangue by an estlike convert—complemented those that did. These parts of the piece illustrated the ways in which male competitiveness and aggressiveness are manifested in social interactions.

Bogosian delivered a versatile, energetic performance. Its short vignettes (some were conversational, others included song and dance) were succinct and crisp; the pace was quick and intense even though the monologues varied greatly in mood and tempo. Lyrical sections were in some cases juxtaposed with the angriest ones. Breaks were often signaled by changes in lighting or in the artist’s posture and voice. Each visual image dissolved into the next in rapid succession, making the experience similar to watching a slide show. Photography clearly had a great influence on Bogosian’s visual performance style. Even though no photographic images were actually employed, each one of the 15 character sketches became snapshots. Men Inside looked like a gallery filled with masculine—most often macho—portraits. This “photographic” style links Bogosian’s work to that of Robert Longo—both are interested in prototypical contemporary postures and visual displays.

Bogosian’s commitment to ironic detachment limited both the range and effectiveness of his work—just as his decision to focus on “macho” men circumscribed his vision of masculinity. It was clear that he felt detached from the characters he portrayed—but he apparently felt no need to create more engaging types. As a result, Men Inside went nowhere, despite being well-executed. The performance remained a set of fleshed-out stereotypes that negatively reinforced, rather than affirmatively challenged, the status quo.

Shelley Rice