POSTED ON AUGUST 27, 2008:
Shocking Performance Art
Graven Image loses steam and misfires as eccentricity turns dull
Tried too Hard. I found the "living art exhibit and performance art piece" too raw or over the top. The lines were too bulky. A well-written piece doesn't have to be pedantic to encourage discussion or thought.
Last week wasn't terrible, but it wasn't memorable either. Packaged with a late week illness, I am looking forward to next week. I had plans. They didn't include visiting the Guggenheim or meeting Michael Phelps, but I would've checked for an on/off switch if I had--the guy's unreal, but there were plans.
When it all started to go down, I really just wanted to relax on the couch or lie in bed and send text messages to everyone I knew. Text messaging is new to me. I've been missing out for, like, three years now. Time to catch up, I thought.
"@ home layin on da couch. U?," was sent out to more than one contact. I knew if I didn't get up I wouldn't leave the house. Later I was bound to opt out of something, so I had to take the opportunity to get out and enjoy at least a sprinkling of the week. I prodded myself from slumber and was out the door in order to appear hip to all the people I'd see out on the town.
On recommendations via text and this paper (thank you 7+1), I lumbered to downtown's Club 209 for what had been described to me as a weird show. I like weird and was only in the beginning stages of my sickness, so I was game.
Joshua Oaks and the rest of the Orasi Productions (www.myspace.com/orasiproductions) team had my attention even before I saw the golden woman wearing only pasties, a belt, and g-string atop the 209 bar. As my eyes darted around the room, I saw a blue woman with two extra arms. This was the living art exhibit I had read about. It preceded the performance. As I continued around the room, there were a couple of men only wearing brief underwear, and one appeared to be stuffing. If I'm wrong, he was one hell of a man! One of my friends added, "He's taller laying down than he is standing up." She followed that by calling my girlfriend out, "Don't lie! I saw you checkin' that out."
I quickly did a running tally of the amount of times I'd seen brief-clad men in public throughout my lifetime. Tulsa's got every other city I've lived in beat. It's not even close. Tulsa by a mile!
Graven Image, performed by the production company, was "trying to fill a big shoe." Tackling religion, society, and culture all in one 30 to 45 minute act sets a high bar. I'm all for questioning norms and doing so in a less than conventional way, but strong writing and acting shouldn't be comprised in favor of shock value.
Here's my point: bringing individuals in the audience into the performance is great. It's not something I see at every event, so it peaks my interest, although I sure as hell don't wish to be singled out. There's a way of engaging those in attendance in a respectful, constructive and even acute manner. Then there's bullying.
At one point during the evening, after one of the brief-wearing cast members had callously called out a rather portly gentleman in attendance, a different man who had been commenting incessantly during the performance turned to my girlfriend and said, "Well, I don't want to touch his butt anymore. He's mean." It was the best line of the night. Consumerism wasn't getting any love after that.
Oaks, the show's producer, apparently doesn't mean for the aggressive tone to be a surprise, the evening could "make you a bit uncomfortable," he told Urban Tulsa's arts writer Paul Sheckarski before the show. I appreciated the warning. It made me hang back and observe from afar. Had I not be warned I could have easily been on the receiving end of a tirade about my role in consumerism. A tirade delivered by a powdered-white man wearing only a Notre Dame ball cap and briefs with a Wal-Mart name tag affixed to his groin.
It would have probably made me, among other things, uncomfortable. I was already uncomfortable and the aggression wasn't even directed at me. Also, I had prepared myself for something akin to a verbal barrage on an audience member. Had I been blind-sided it would have been even harder to swallow. Yes, the man could have lost some weight, but public mockery is probably not going to be the catalyst he needs.
Cast members represented violence, consumerism, eastern religion, George W. Bush, Christianity, and the aforementioned scantly clothed golden calf. A motley crew, indeed. I thought the sky was the limit based on the program.
I was hoping to see consumerism birth George W. Bush and possibly burn the performer playing Christianity. Violence would be juvenile yet glamorous, but instead she was awkward, maybe awkwardly glamorous. As the lights flickered signaling the upcoming beginning of the play, I settled on expecting something dangerously strange.
Overall, I found the "living art exhibit and performance art piece" too raw or over the top. Many of the lines were too bulky. A well-written piece doesn't have to be pedantic to encourage discussion or thought. I get that Mr. Oaks is intelligent and the performers were better than I could ever be, but it felt forced. Admittedly, I enjoyed how sexual the play turned out to be. I had my presumptions based on the costumes.
That said, they're all still young and growing. I appreciate the goal of their work, so I would gladly return to see one of their future shows, because the group is intelligent and controversial. It beats dumb and boring any day. Graven Image was neither, but the controversy and delivery got in the way of the message.
On my way out, my mind was full of dancing tea cups. Hot, soothing tea. My throat was desperate for relief. I hurried home and while my tea was steeping sent out a text message: "@ home again. Not going out again this weekend. Brewing some tea b4 bed. U?"
No more controversy. No more aggression. Just text messages and rest. Next week I'll be all better.
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