Chambre: Dance review by Helen Shaw
Chambre is Jack Ferver's hilarious lampoon of (in order): museums, Lady Gaga, the rich, Jean Genet, the obsession with true-crime, theater itself and his own self-dramatizing instincts. Chambre is also (in order): over it, righteously pissed off and well past giving a fuck. In just an hour of shaggy-dog theater making, Ferver manages to whisk us through a vicious critique of gilded entitlement and wage slavery. It's also no coincidence that the performance happens in a palace of culture: It's the New Museum, on the Bowery, but still.
Our first engagement with Chambre is the chambre itself: We are let loose to wander among Marc Swanson's sculptures, which are mostly plywood-wall sections, painted white or gold or adorned with mirrors or chains. As we stand in the space, Ferver enters in gold lamé (the witty costumes are by Reid Bartelme), steps up onto a little plinth and begins to recite from a deposition. In 2011, Lady Gaga's ex-assistant Jennifer O'Neill sued her for overtime, and Lady Gaga responded with total outrage. As the sweet-tempered Jacob Slominski hands him a Diet Coke, Ferver delivers lines like “She thinks she's just like the queen of the universe. But in my work and what I do, I'm the queen of the universe every day!” with a wonderful air of shocked disappointment. How dare Jen treat her this way? How dare she?
The rest of the piece—a co-presentation by Alliance Française's Crossing the Line Festival and the New Museum—is a playful embroidery on The Maids, Genet's scandalous, ripped-from-the-headlines play about two sisters murdering their mistress. In voiceover, Ferver tells us the backstory (leading with the gruesome bits), then re-enters with Slominski; he had already reminded us that Genet wanted the sisters to be played by men. As the “real” sisters, Léa and Christine (rather than Genet's Solange and Claire), the two act out strange fantasies, dashing around the sculpture-turned-scenery, working their way up to violence against their ditzy mistress (Michelle Mola). Everybody comes out of this badly: Mola's obsession with being the maids' friend and letting them borrow her clothes echoes the Gaga testimony, and Ferver himself seems unwilling to give up the spotlight now that he's tasted it. He dominates poor Jacob/Léa in all their role-play and even takes over the curtain call to keep talking, complaining about the museum's stinginess and wondering whether he could live in L.A.
Ferver's work as a choreographer is deliberately downplayed here. The dancing often happens out of sight behind the set's walls, though the slanting mirrors allow us to spy on private moments. Rather than admiring Ferver the choreographer, we're watching Ferver the postmodernist, the comic playwright, the social critic and provocateur. He consistently engages with ideas of selling the show and himself (he chose the title because it's “fancy-sounding”), and in this we see the fury at the heart of his humor. Ferver frankly equates himself with a girl whose poverty and social proximity to wealth drove her to pluck out a rich woman's eyes. “I'm surprised things like this don't happen more often,” he remarks, and we shift nervously, wondering how funny it will be if he really gets mad. After all, he's already told us that his fee doesn't cover health care.—Helen Shaw
New Museum of Contemporary Art (Dance). Written, choreographed and directed by Jack Ferver. With Ferver, Michelle Mola and Jacob Slominski. Running time: 1hr 10mins. No intermission.