The Art of Reality Sep 28, 2012

by Byron Au Yong


Okay. I confess. I watch Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. Where else can I get an unsentimental view of America? This reality show focuses on six-year-old beauty pageant queen Honey Boo Boo and her family in rural Georgia. In one episode Honey Boo, Sugar Bear and the rest of the family enjoy eating spaghetti with butter and ketchup on the sofa. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the first episode of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo had 2.2 million viewers. I was one of them and I wanted more.


When I reach On the Boards to attend Gob Squad's Kitchen (You've Never Had It So Good), I thought I would have to leave Honey Boo Boo at the door. Little did I know the two would converge. To my surprise, I would learn about being American through Gob Squad – a group of artists/performers from Germany and the UK – just as I was learning about America through Honey Boo's southern white folk.


In Gob Squad's Kitchen, the audience starts by walking through the set. There's a mattress on the floor, a faux-kitchen, a technical area with a sofa, television monitors, sound equipment, rolling spotlights and video cameras. The cast greets the audience with slices of peanut butter on white bread. They watch us; secretly choosing who will enter the show.


Gob Squad's performance exposes the artifice of art as it veers towards reality. The actors play film versions of themselves re-enacting characters who played themselves in Andy Warhol films such as Kitchen, Kiss and Screen Tests. Gob Squad's Kitchen simultaneously parodies and pays homage to these films. I watch with wonder, horror and amusement as large faces fill the screen.


Along with the impressive formal and technical integration of the event, Gob Squad incorporates ideas surrounding Warhol and his milieu. Liberation comes in the form of partying with unresolved feelings towards homosexuality and feminism. One character exuberantly shouts that he is performing a gay cliché before the cliché. Tender moments come from audience participants. One is a 22-year-old man from Vermont who looks to the future and is hopeful. (We find this out during his screen test.) Another is a young woman who, when prompted, believes that the best parties are yet to come. The two Millennials from the audience perform with an optimistic innocence that enlivens this film-as-text for live performance.


Gob Squad's Kitchen and Honey Boo Boo may seem worlds apart. Regardless, both harness the art of reality with playful realizations and hope gone forward. Live theater as guilty pleasure? You bet your Gob Squad.