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.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Offending the Audience

Of all the philosophical, anti-theatrical contradictions in Peter Handke's forty-year-old play Offending the Audience, director Jim Simpson may have achieved the best one by casting The Flea's young theater company (The Bats): they bring the talk of inaction to life in a wonderfully active way, trilling their lines, merging powerfully together as a Greek chorus, and looking extremely attractive in the process.

Photo/Max Ruby

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

The bad news is that after forty years, Peter Handke's play, Offending the Audience, no longer does so. The good news is that after forty years, Peter Handke's play, Offending the Audience, no longer does so: instead, it's an lively bit of non-theater that's been stripped down to negations and contradictions, and then dressed back up in turtlenecks and flawless dictions. In fact, it's so elegant that it's rarely shocking, unless you're surprised to find what could very well be a mixed-gender group of Deal or No Deal models speaking lucidly about the world of the stage that they are deconstructing: "We have no need of illusions to disillusion you."

But for a mob of 21 young actors -- playing themselves as they play with Handke's words -- they don't do much to smash through our staid conventions. They stand in place a lot, or sit, parallel to us, on a long bench across the wide-screen space of the Flea's underground theater. When they come up to the knee-high divider between us and them, they only occasionally cross it, and though they make eye contact, most of the crowd responded in kind, enough to the point where it actually seemed to unsettle some of the actors -- a few refused to acknowledge us at all, throwing their insults away on empty chairs instead. (Not that they weren't ever successful; I think I did fairly well matching Ronald Washington's gaze considering he was inches from my front-row face, but I eventually flinched.) Perhaps director Jim Simpson meant for this to happen: perhaps this unoffensive bit of play (that is not, they repeat, not a play) is meant to break down our barriers by not breaking them down. It is, after all, a play of contradictions.

The biggest and most delightful reversal is that all this talk of inaction is brought to life in a wonderfully active way: the actors trill their lines, merge powerfully together as a Greek chorus, and all look extremely attractive while doing so. Out of respect to the hard-working cast (and as practice for the few cast members who seem flat), I recommend that you stick around for Act II. If you can get past their intimidating wall of silence, you'll realize at last that once all the fun and games are over, the essential truth of the show -- that audience and actor are intrinsically no different -- shines through. That is, we may be "Merovingian dark agers," or "bimbos and bimbets," hell, even "killer pigs," but then again, so are they. So are we.

Offending the Audience (*AT LEAST* 60 min.)
The Bats @ The Flea (41 White Street)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $10.00
Performances (through 2/23): Thurs. - Sat. @ 9:00

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