Awaiting Oblivion - Performance Review Feb 27, 2017

by Elissa Favero

            An indicator species is a plant or animal sensitive to changes in the environment. Biologists track these species to monitor ecosystems for adversity, studying them so as to be alert to conditions like disease or contamination.

            In our own communities, there are populations who are likewise susceptible to harmful change, the first to suffer from what will eventually poison us all. They’re sometimes immigrants vulnerable to waves of xenophobia, or people of color at the greatest risk for police brutality, or queer communities finding it harder and harder to afford rent in Seattle, or a population of homeless youth whose ranks grow, whose existence is made illegal.

            None of this, of course, is news. For many of us the alarm has already sounded and continues to sound loudly, more incessantly now, without foreseeable end. But if you’re anything like me, it can sometimes be tempting, even easy to hit the snooze button, to marvel at the smoothness and glitter corporate capitalism has wrought, to look away from what’s hard, to find ease in complacency.

            Tim Smith-Stewart and Jeffrey Azevedo, though, aren’t letting any of us off the hook in their new, acutely self-aware show Awaiting Oblivion: Temporary Solutions for the Dystopian Future We Find Ourselves Within at Present. The performance is presented as a series of letters and mixtapes the anonymous Seattle street artist AO sent to Smith-Stewart over the last several years, as we’ve become increasingly mired in this clusterfuck of gentrification, racism, and state-sanctioned violence. Each letter names a problem and submits a Temporary Solution. I was swept along by the word-heavy current of heady academic language and heartbreaking personal confession but it won’t, I suspect, be to everyone’s taste. Smith-Stewart and Azevedo smartly break up these thick walls of words with projections on a screen at the back of the stage. Some of the show’s funniest moments come early, during the first Temporary Solution we hear about. The phrase “TIM SMITH-STEWART IS A CAPITALIST” shows as a background projection while Awaiting Oblivion’s four performers, Smith-Stewart and Azevedo and Alyza Delpan-Monley and Skylar Tatro, perform ra-ra moves, becoming literal cheerleaders for the corporate donors supporting the show. Smith-Stewart then stops the dance to explicitly thank them, enacting his complicity in what AO calls the “nonprofit arts industrial complex.” It’s a joke about awareness and cheerful self-loathing. It’s on us too.

Alice Gosti’s choreography for Awaiting Oblivion is, as demonstrated by this cheerleading sequence, one of the show’s strengths. In the Temporary Solution “Tree vs. Sidewalk,” Delpan-Monley crawls through crowded table legs, giving physical form to a monologue about tree roots pushing against sidewalk concrete and to the phrase “fight against and survive within.” Later, as they argue about suicidal ideation, Thelma and Louise, and hopelessness and hopefulness, Delpan-Monley and Tatro hit against each other, hard, like sparring partners. Their fight is with words and ideas but it’s also in space and with bodies. In the Temporary Solution “Queer City Lost,” they’re friends and former lovers, navigating around each other to avoid codependency, tethered and bounded but also connected by cords that reach up to headphones they wear around their heads. The endurance these movements require gives the performers’ spoken words a physicality and urgency they wouldn’t otherwise have.

This is, in short, a heartfelt show that turns up the volume on the alarm and that also offers solace, or at least solidarity in the face of all that blaring, necessary noise.