According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Under the Radar (Day 2, cont.): Low: Meditations Trilogy Part 1, Regurgitophagy

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

- Low: Meditations Trilogy Part 1
Photo/Jean Jacques Tiziou

Low opens with a blank slate: an empty chair on one of those white-floored and white-walled setups most familiar from a modeling session or an Apple commercial. What follows is, if you will permit the pun, a monologued bit of white-box theater, a tale from Rha Goddess about Loquitia, a precocious girl who thinks that her teacher is racist to associate Langston Hughes with predecessor Walt Whitman, but young enough to still get into food fights with her sister. These endearing moments carry the show for the first fifteen minutes; Mrs. Goddess gets a high modulation in her pitch to sound purposefully cute, and her free movements around the space give her both attitude and grace.

That's just the prologue: Low is subsequently diagnosed with being depressed, and when she stops taking her medication (so that she can get back to the rapping she yearns to be a part of), she ends up losing even her shitty Starbucks job and moving into the streets to make her own way, a way that ultimately has her giving blow jobs to a McDonald's manager, just so that she can use the bathroom. Her humiliation doesn't end there -- she starts to get physical side-effects that involve uncontrollable spasms and tics, and though she still has sense enough to make fun of the other homeless people, she doesn't realize how far gone she's becoming.

Rha Goddess doesn't seem to notice how far gone her play is either; she's so caught up in preserving the physicality of the character that we get very little of the actual emotion, beyond that which we create from our own fears and automatic empathies. Low wants to be a rapper, but we only ever see her jumping about lip syncing to other rapper's words, which locks us out from Low's inner voice, leaving us only with cold observations. And though Low is forced to endure much humiliation, you'd never be able to tell that from Rha's performance: the words tell us one thing, but her poise tells us another, and while I understand pride, what happens on stage is more a means to armor herself. Where the play finally connects is during a personal epilogue (Rha herself, or as Ana, Low's sister, it isn't clear) that at last allows us to see Low as another person does.

Meditations is an accurate description of this trilogy, for if the first part is any indication, these characters are all internalized and thought out, rather than experienced. Chay Yew has done an excellent job of casting cages of light on the floor, and moving his actor across the stage, but it's up to Rha to show us something more. Right now, Low is just talk, and it's nothing we haven't heard before.

- Regurgitophagy

Photo/Debora 70

I'm sure that Michel Melamed's Regurgitophagy is a great stream-of-consciousness play: I say this because it's one of my fundamental beliefs that you should always give a man who is electrocuting himself the benefit of the doubt. But what I saw on the stage was a man desperately trying to communicate something to the audience about consciousness, and what I saw in the audience were a bunch of disbelieving onlookers trying not to laugh. You see, Melamed uses a system he calls "Pau-de-Arara" to directly interface with the audience; electric clamps are attached to his body so that when we make noise of any kind, he gets shocked. Some of Melamed's jokes simply aren't funny, or they haven't translated properly from Brazil to America, but for the great majority of the time, puzzled people were trying to figure out whether or not respond to his questions, whether or not they should laugh, and best of all, whether or not it would be alright to applaud the man.

Honestly, I wanted to clap just to hurt him; after all, it's not my fault he hooked himself up to a machine like that, nor is it my fault that his text hasn't yet translated well into English. But I have another policy, too, and that's not to do anything to an artist that I wouldn't have done to me, and when he offered to show the audience that the shocks were not fake, I didn't exactly leap at the opportunity. (For what it's worth, there was plenty of noise the machine did not pick up on, and plenty of times that the machine was turned off, so the show is still more about the gimmick than his actual point.)

In any case, when Melamed read in his own language toward the end of the show, he sounded clear, strong, and confident. And when he recited off strings of three letter words toward the beginning, I started to understand the way in which nonsense could be turned into sense. But until he resolves the language barrier, American audiences are just paying to watch a man electrically flagellate himself, and that's not my idea of theater.

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