New York

Blue Man Group

Franklin Furnace

Blue Man Group (Chris Wink, Matthew Goldman, and Phil Stanton) is the latest in a line of gross-out performance artists that traces back to the Kipper Kids of the mid ’70s. Unlike the Kippers, who evince a Teutonic fondness for the scatalogical (fake-caca smearing, spitting, and fart-sound chatter), Blue Man Group is a buttoned-down version of bad behavior; their messes are cleanly executed and tidily contained, rather than anarchic and stumbling. While they don’t sprawl into redundant offensiveness, neither do they generate the inspired, squirm-in-your-seat moments that the borderline acting out of the Kippers or Karen Finley have conjured up.

In Simultaneous Moments, 1990, Blue Man Group presented a collection of skits in the appropriately rec-room-type ambience of the basement performance space here. Among the most effective of its vignettes was an opening musical number, in which a mock-epic theme was banged out from behind intermittently illuminated screens (the Blue Men were visible only in silhouette); a take-off on Jenny Holzer’s LED signs in which the texts harped on the viewer’s in-ability to make sense of the fast-moving, simultaneous messages; and the excavation of a performer’s head from a giant Jello mold, while the head spouted ersatz Dada poetry about “the puma of ennui” and “the bison of desire.” Perhaps the most realized bit of business was a sit-down dinner during which the rather gooey noodles the trio were downing began spontaneously to spurt out of their chests, as if the food were running out of their bodies as fast as it could be ingested. With its evocations of everything from defecation to an alien possession of body cavities to William Faulkner’s pithy summary of life (“Eat, sleep, evacuate”), this food-as-the-stuff-we-are-made-of number balanced its overt silliness with the subtextual fact of the human body as viscous, gooey material itself. By acting as if their torsos had sprung leaks, the Blue Men flirted with the notion of the integrity of the body envelope, the distinction between inside and outside that is so important to our recognition of humanness.

Blue Man Group played out these and many sketches of much lesser import in a consistently deadpan style, to live musical accompaniment (New Agey instrumentals played by Larry Heinemann on a Chapman Stick, a futuristic kind of guitar). But unlike, say, Buster Keaton’s blank-faced attempts to maintain equilibrium in a whirling world, the trio’s baleful stares between themselves and occasionally at the audience read as “Look at us doing these goofy things”—as self-congratulatory smugness, rather than empathetic complicity. This performative overlay caused most of their activities, such as the creation of a painting by the splattering of paint bags shot from an oversized slingshot onto a board, to come off as stupid people tricks. While not without a certain charm, this approach and the willy—nilly, string-of-beads structure made the performance feel like a series of interminable gimmicks (although the whole thing was only about 40 minutes in length). Blue Man Group needs stronger ideas if it is to work up any real shock value from its colorful, pseudo-outré acts.

John Howell