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Western Society: Theater review by Helen Shaw
If you are new to Gob Squad, if you didn't see the Public presentations of Kitchen (You've Never Had It So Good) or Super Night Shot, you should not read the last paragraph of this review. It will spoil delicious surprises for you, and much of Gob Squad's power emerges from the way it tickles its audience—and you mustn't see your tickler coming.
The media-savvy company of German and English actors has been thinking about the ordinary, about the joy of joining, the impermanence of relationships and about how strangers can sometimes act as friends. To investigate these issues, they re-create—every night anew—an Internet video. The clip in question is a YouTube nonentity, a short record of a family celebrating something (there's cake) and singing karaoke, a kind of ne plus ultra of the Modern Awkward. “When we found it, only four people had watched it!” crows Bastian Trost, the member whose sweet enthusiasm most animates the evening. That we begin with a video countdown that started at 1,000,000 B.C. indicates a certain rue on our hosts’ part. Civilization! It's gotten us here.
As the gold-lamé–bedecked quartet move in and out of roles like “White Cap Boy” and “He Dances with Granny,” they first reveal their thoughts in their given places (“I am thinking about this leather couch…and about how once it was a cow standing in a field”) and then slide imperceptibly into talking about their own very personal memories. They also pose each other unanswerable, improvised questions like, “Islamic fundamentalism or Christian fundamentalism?” so we can see them squirm in close-up. Indeed, we wind up watching almost the entire show through the live video feed, since a rolling screen usually stands between the action and the audience. The film eats the show, which eats the film; no one can play this sort of game like Gob Squad. Their comic touch manages to be feather-light, yet there's a real insistence on distance, sadness, disconnection, self-deception.
Okay. Gob Squad virgins, please stop reading now, and go get your tickets.
Fellow aficionados—at last we're alone. I can now confess to you, as people also thoroughly enamored of those other works, that Western Society does slightly disappoint. The meandering delights of those other shows have slowed here to a sometimes difficult amble, and the naughty inclusion of randomly selected audience members, cued by headsets, hasn't the same urgency and thematic complexity that it did in Kitchen. Previous Gob Squad visits set the standard ridiculously high, and it doesn't help that the piece keeps asking us about memory, to remember a party we'd like to relive. I know which one I was thinking of: Gob Squad threw it in 2012.—Helen Shaw
Skirball Center for the Performing Arts (see Off Broadway). Created and performed by Gob Squad. With Sarah Thom, Bastian Trost, Sean Patten, Simon Will. Running time: 1hr 45mins. No intermission.