"Biograph" Audience Review Nov 20, 2015

by Steve Peters

It begins with a cinéma vérité-style video (or is it acting?) of a stereotypical "Bad Boy." A woman (playwright Young Jean Lee) directs him/orders him around. She asks him personal questions that he seems uncomfortable answering. She tells him to take a shower and to wash his balls and his ass, then she tells him to take a piss, and he reluctantly complies as we reluctantly observe. The accompanying text says something about reversing the male gaze. I suppose this is intended to be transgressive, or a critique of pornography. There is definitely nothing sexy about it.

The video ends and we see the same Bad Boy with the same naked ass getting back into the same clothes he had on before the shower scene. He's wandering around what looks like a cluttered theater dressing room, behind a scrim. He spends most of the show stumbling around, not doing much of anything. Sometimes he drinks a beer, or plays with a roll of packing tape or a tape recorder, or pretends to engage with the dancer.

Off to one side is an older man, scribbling notes, muttering into a mic, playing an old tape recorder and singing along with it, and cutting up photos that are periodically spit out of a slot in a wall behind him. A young female dancer is on the other side of the stage; she begins tentatively, the Bad Boy does a kind of half-assed duet with her now and then, but she spends most of the piece flailing about on her own. At one point she dances on a ramp covered in astro-turf with a contact microphone embedded in it, for quite a long time. Later there is a semi-cathartic moment when she tries to tear her way through the scrim to get to the Bad Boy.

Throughout the piece there is sound, often loud and distorted. Usually it seems to be electronic treatments of the sounds being made on the stage in real time, maybe using MAX/MSP or Ableton Live or some other live sampling/processing program. Sometimes there is feedback, or fragments of pop music (a snippet of Patti Smith's Babelogue: "I don't fuck much with the past but I fuck plenty with the future..."). There are also a couple of video monitors behind the scrim that show what is happening onstage, either live or pre-recorded versions of it. There is always some ambiguity as to what is live and what is being recycled from the (sometimes immediate) past. This element is reinforced at the end, when the dancer does a monologue, reading text from Chris Marker's classic La Jetée – a very beautiful film about post-apocalyptic time travel, made with still photographs. She reads the text along with a tape recording of her reading it – another layer of temporal dislocation. During this section there are some photos projected on the scrim that look as if they could be from Marker's film, but I don't think they are.

And then it ends. Two or three people gave it a standing ovation, a few others said "Woooo!" Perhaps they are much more sophisticated theater-goers than I am. Honestly, I'm not sure what it all adds up to.