Feast

Photograph: Georgia Nerheim
Incubator Arts Project at St. Mark’s Church, East Village Friday July 20 2012 20:00

Few things are less surprising than the fact that director-playwright Andrew Ondrejcak has worked with Robert Wilson and Marina Abramovic. The pope's religion? Where a bear does his business? Maybe. But certainly while watching Ondrejcak's rigidly beautiful Feast, now at the Incubator Arts Project, you can see the clear stamp of, respectively, theater's high priest of the static visual and performance art's doyenne of sitting down for a long time. For its entire, hour-long duration, Feast's performers stay at their posts—four gleaming concubines and a jeans-clad king (Okwui Okpokwasili) float at an exaggeratedly tall golden table, while a butcher sits far below them, staring at a giant fish. That single stage image is exquisite in the preset; it remains frozenly exquisite throughout.

Ondrejcak's other influences (according to the program bio) are playwrights Erin Courtney and Mac Wellman. Again, his mentors' hallmarks strike deep into the work, and the cynical, clever text belongs very much to their school of the neorealist weird. Feast samples musically from Handel's ravishing oratorio Belshazzar while adopting one of its scenarios—a dinner celebrating doomed Babylon, furnished with Jerusalem's plundered gold. The concubines lip-synch to the Handel, order meat (“Bloody! Raw and bloody!”), bitch in various accents about love, get distracted (“Who stepped in dog shit?”) and generally behave like Americans at the unraveling end of an empire. These four—Jenn Dees, Cara Francis, Yuki Kawahisa and Jason Robert Winfield—do a superb, frequently hilarious job, though the white noise of the Incubator's air-conditioning does flatten their effect somewhat. As for the others, the grave Okpokwasili glowers outward, offering only occasional gnomic observations on beauty or doom, and the butcher waits, basically functioning as a human prop.

Ondrejcak is twisting together two wonderful strands here, namely opera-style glossiness and Brooklyn playwriting quirk. Just at the moment, the fibers still lie too separately in their braid, and we are left coolheaded enough to notice each element (lovely lighting by Scott Bolman! evocative sound design by Kristin Worrall!) rather than succumbing to our senses. At the risk of sounding like a reactionary, I also long for Ondrejcak to discover the joys of movement, transitions, exits and entrances—I enjoyed 55 minutes of his sessile aesthetic, but even a 56th minute would have been too much.—Helen Shaw

Venue name: Incubator Arts Project at St. Mark’s Church
Contact:
Address: 131 E 10th St
New York

Cross street: at Second Ave
Transport: Subway: L to First or Third Ave, 6 to Astor Pl
Event phone: 212-352-3101