Saturday, April 11, 2015

Guest blog: The owls are not what they seem. A review of the Representatives' "Beddy Tear"

The Representatives' Beddy Tear cast

“The owls are not what they seem…”

The following review is a guest blog by Eli Y. Jack, former arts critic for 10 years with the Oklahoma Eagle, the leading black newspaper in Oklahoma, and also long time critic for the Tulsa Free Press, and now retired. Mr. Jack appears by invitation of Bob Brashear. The review is heavily  informed by conversations at the after parties following the performances at West-Park.

Beddy Tear, the latest offering of the Representatives, just concluded at West-Park, is easily the most challenging, creative and entertainig yet of the Richardson/Steiner oeuvre. Billed as a live audience pilot run of a crime/thriller web series, BT asks a lot of its audience. While Richardson’s plays always demand paying close attention to every word and detail, BT does so in spades, from the moment you walk into the 19th century gymnasium playing space.

The video playing as you walk in and the music and French narration coming through your headphones helps draw you into the liminal reality of the place we are entering. (Did I mention it helps to be familiar with the 1962 French sci-fi time travel short film La Jetee’?) This time around, Representatives’ everyman Matt Steiner finds himself in a post-modern neo-Calvinist noir David Lynchian landscape moebius strip journey somewhere between Mulholland Drive and Coney Island.

Questions of levels of reality are always present watching the interplay of live and video with us watching and a roving cameraman filming us watching. The meta nature of the journey comes into play as even the cameraman and director Richardson and his sotto voce stage directions become part of the narrative experience. Why do some characters only appear on film? Is that tech problem real? Or part of the performance? (Seriously, Windows 9 was it?) Where are we in this? What's in my headphones and what's "on stage"? Some audience members kept one  ear free of headphones. What am I supposed to watch? By the end, the live action is looping like a video or digital performance.. and time travels that moebius strip in disturbing ways. Words and references in the framing web show come back to enter into present reality and bend back again. Even negligees are important.

As New Yorkers, the Reps give us a world where the city is a place of rationality where you can keep your bearings (well, except for serial assault accusers) and the middle America of St.Louis with its Gateway to the West arch becomes a nightmarish world where reality comes unhinged. (Travel tip: the action takes place in St.Louis’ hip West End. If you go there, forget the tourist theme park by the river and head to the West End…) The server at the microbrewery Blueberry Hill is  from Dallas, a place where presidents get assassinated and empires take no prisoners..And we wind up in ecotopian Seattle, home to serial killers. (Twin Peaks was set in the Pacific Northwest.)

On the other hand, no one skewers the New York hip cultural liberal like Stan Richardson. From microbrew chic to attitudes about race and Ferguson and transgender, he nails it.  And throw in shifting understandings of our sexual interactions.

The performances by Reps regulars and newcomers are uniformly strong. But Alma Cuervo’s piercing eyed riveting airplane passenger monologue deserves special mention.

The play concludes with a song, I’ve already forgotten everything you said  by Brooklyn Indie group, the Dig. (Go check out that video…) Or does it? Overheard at the afterparty, Jeez, even the food is 1970’s cocktail party hors d’oevres…Like I said, don’t miss a detail.

Beddy Tear is the most boundary stretching work to play in the Berlin meets Brooklyn ambiance on the Upper West Side of West-Park since the Woodshed Collective’s 2011 immersive site-specific production of the Tenant. Yes, it’s that good.

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