Allen Johnson | <i>Another You</i> Nov 17, 2005

by Tania Kupczak

Transferred from our blog archive at ArtsJournal Nov 17, 2005 Re: Gift by Annie Wagner I know you didn't mean "splinters" literally, Bret, but I'd say Johnson's bits of narrative are more like uncrackable nuts. They seem modeled on koans or parables without referent--they're not so much partial as they are hard and self-contained. The square of light and boxing ring-style blocking (feint, circle, feint) mirror his circular narrative style. If this is truth, it's the kind that doesn't easily give up its meaning. I liked this show for its paradoxes, which are almost too many to count. There's the demand for an Other who is also a twin. There's the performance of a working-class masculinity--an identity that often pretends to defy both performance and confession. And then there's the idea of prayer as entreaty masked as thanks. There were familiar contradictions, like the search for transcendence in filth. And perhaps best of all, there were mundane ironies, like having to clean a vacuum cleaner. It's unusual and very cool to see so much philosophy in an autobiographical solo show. The one thing I'm unsure about is the theological ending. It's a quiet, sliding-off kind of close, and I wanted more time to mull over the ideas--I remember thinking they were smart, but I don't actually remember them. I'm thinking it's dangerous to put insight at the end of a play, subjecting it to the clapping and loudness and lights. Not even the hardiest idea can withstand that kind of treatment. Nips of Something Strong from the Back of the Cupboard. by Marya Sea Kaminski A box of light defines the playing space but cannot contain the reaches of Allen Johnson's ANOTHER YOU. A box of light. A handful of vaseline. An exhalation of dull ache. Johnson draws inspiration from Sarah Kane but shares company with Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty and Karen Finley's sexyslaughterhouse solo art, asserting with graceful poetry and light humor that pain does not deaden us, but defines us. The intimacy of violence, the fragments of things gone wrong wrapped into a tight and mercurial solo performance. At On the Boards last night, women spent intermission in the bathroom pushing mascara back into their eyes. Large men in muted sweaters tried to look comfortable. An eager audience sat on top of each other and fell forward to laugh at the most uncomfortable notions... incest and liquor, bullypunches and softkissbetrayals. It is a delicious moment when an audience laughs and falls silent at the feet of the most difficult, of the words that do not pass over a respectable dining table... but reach underneath and move from your knee up the inside of your thigh instead. Dangerous and dirty and familiar. Mr. Johnson's performance seemed a theatrical feat of courage and devotion. He made the audience for a small moment pray together to the ugly stitches on the inside of all our linings. He offers prayers and thanks from the stagefloor. Thank you thank you for the things that have never worked out. At its most fine and raw, theatre is not comfortable. Allen Johnson embraces the room and the stage, not with comfort, but with warm longing and vulgar, private despair. He is a storyteller. Rape and relentless lust. Dogshit and dead pigeons. The golden age of Times Square porn theatres and the taste of blood on dark basement steps. His stories are not pretty. Rather, Mr. Johnson relieves us of pretty, of artifice. With one hand he takes a machete to the mundane and lays the other hand open before the audience, reassuring us, thankfully, that pretty has no currency here. Here we can rest in the very sad, and the arrestingly blunt, and the viciously beautiful. There is no truth, only stories, he quotes. Fuck that. These stories, his stories, sweat truth and release the audience into a silent end, like waking up from a long, wet sleep laced with dreams that you don't want to talk about but can't get out of your head. Gift by Bret Fetzer Like some blue-collar incest-survivor taoist missionary, Allen Johnson spills over with autobiographical splinters about fucking vacuum cleaners and looking for enlightenment in the grain of a wooden floor. Though he talks about our brains being wired for stories, he doesn't really tell any, at least not in the beginning-middle-end senes, they're all middle; it's like he drops a needle in the groove of his subconscious and fragments---images, incidents, musings, blurts---come forth in a kaleidoscopic dance. He's sort of the anti-Spalding. I would grow impatient were it not for his voice: A calm preternaturally crystalline tenor (the man should do books-on-tape, he'd make a fortune; you hear and grasp every word clearly, as if he'd been trained by the Royal Dramatic Academy, but there's nothing finicky, nothing pushy, nothing pretentious, he just communicates lucidly, conversationally). It's doubly surprising because much of what he talks about is or is framed by awful abuse from his parents, and usually anyone with that kind of background can barely speak about it all, let alone with grace and humor. It has something to do with his father, who, Old-Testament-Style, handed down gifts both good and evil. You'll forget some narrative shards right off, but others will stick and stick good and probably pop up in the back of your mind years later and you'll think you thought it up yourself, for Johnson has handed down his own little gift to you.