Fall preview '08: Theater

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Vice Squad

Experimental theater outfit Radiohole is growing up, but not too much—the group is still getting wasted and naked onstage.

By Helen Shaw


Photograph: Radiohole

Hundreds—maybe thousands—of New Yorkers would recognize Eric Dyer's penis. And no, it isn't (we think) because he gets around. Dyer is one member of the experimental theater outfit Radiohole, the reliably out-of-its-skull, postmodern troupe that fuses a keen interest in Americana to punk-rock methods. At its shows, three things happen: The audience gets buzzed, the stage gets trashed, and somebody almost always gets naked.

The anarchic collective has thrown berserker frenzies that are like death-metal takes on Wagner (Wurst), gorged itself on fried chicken while discussing social theory (Radiohole Is Still My Name) and sometimes refused to show up at all (Scott Halverson Gillette phoned in his Fluke performance from a laptop in Vermont). The group's strategy—if it can be called that—applies total democracy to the creative process. According to actor Maggie Hoffman, rehearsals look "like kindergarten. We're each off in a corner, working alone." Then they collide their creations and sculpt the mess. For audiences, it can be disorienting, not least because the group plies them with free beer.

Radiohole's ninth outing, Anger/Nation at the Kitchen, promises another taboo-busting riot. Splicing together two wildly different influences—filmmaker Kenneth Anger's high-camp art-house classic The Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome and 19th-century temperance warrior Carrie Nation—the company will once again dive into its favorite topic: the power of decadence.

Hoffman plays Nation, a hatchet-wielding crusader against the demon rum, and says she chose to insert her character into Anger's pseudo-Egyptian, pseudo-Satanic universe because, "I wanted someone who could hold her own against all these guys. Well, actually, we show how the repressive idea fails—that's a spoiler for you!—because she gets transformed into a Cleopatra figure. I think of it as the voluptuous transfiguration of Carrie Nation."

But there is more here than just exquisite depravity. New York has produced few truly hedonistic companies, because licentiousness-as-aesthetic can pall with repetition. Radiohole, having stayed with the madness for a full decade, wants to reassure us that the party isn't over. Reports have it, for instance, that during 2000's Bend Your Mind Off, performers were doing coke onstage. "I can neither confirm nor deny," Dyer responds presidentially. "And no, I do not know the statute of limitations on that."

But critical darling Radiohole is no longer the edgy outsider. "We've been around for ten years, so we can't quaff beers like we used to," Dyer confesses. "We're not taking the stage drunk out of our minds anymore." Hoffman murmurs a correction: "Well, we did in Sweden. But it's happening less." Now the onetime rebels fret about foundation support and the gentrification that threatens to eject them from Williamsburg. When they workshopped Anger/Nation last spring, the subtitle, Hip Deep in Shit, fell prey to self-censoring, and, worries Dyer, "The Kitchen is being weird about their padded chairs; I guess they think we're gonna spill." The transition from wild children to craftsmen is tricky, but more drives the collective than simple fun. Dyer admits that something ritualistic underpins their pieces: "Let's just say it satisfies a need I'm not getting from the pope."

Anger/Nation is at The Kitchen Sept 11--27.

NEXT: Brave new worlds Craig Lucas isn't content to stay in his place.

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