Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Widow Party

If you're in the Chicago area it's not too late to catch a performance of The Widow Party, a "collaboratively written and performed melodrama, Wild West show, political thriller, pageant, and farce" and the second of four poets' theater shows being put on by Links Hall and curated by John Beer. The collaborators this time include Joyelle McSweeney, Johannes Göransson (the author more equal than others), Jennifer Karmin, Patrick Durgin, Jacob Knabb (who also had a small part in the final performance of "Humana Ante Oculos" last week), James Shea, and Lisa Janssen. As that description implies, it's a true phantasmagoria, incorporating sound effects; hilarious/disturbing videos; a showstopping conflation of Annie Oakley and Hannah Weiner into Hannie Oakley and Annie Weiner (with go-go dancing!); convincing imitations of Walter Cronkite, Louis Armstrong, and Jimmy Stewart; mind-reading; odd props (including a pistol that resembles nothing so much as the newborn Alien or the Eraserhead baby; Patrick's faultless impersonation of Britney Spears; and divers other wonders.

If the Rodrigo Toscano pieces I took part in last weekend were Beckettian in their spareness and painful humor, The Widow Party is like a rock musical co-written by Brecht and Joyce. Filled with disturbing images of violence (mostly sound images), it obviously wishes to challenge the audience and implicate us in the piece's mashed-up war-discourse (there's a character-persona called "You," an aspiring film director). Yet I didn't feel much in the way of an alienation effect; I was instead supremely entertained by the sheer verve of the language and the nutty energy of the poets. We even get to dance at the end! I went home from Friday's performance wondering about the place of pleasure in this sort of theater. Certainly Johannes and Joyelle didn't seem disappointed when I told them how much I'd enjoyed it, but I wonder if the information the play seems to want to transmit about the violence of our spectatorhood doesn't require a more didactic hand. On the other hand, no preacher is more likely to find him or herself addressing the choir than a poet, much less a troupe of poets putting on a show--and punishing the audience doesn't strike me as viable or even particularly ethical nowadays. What does it say, though, that I found the mad world of The Widow Party so familiar, even homey? Maybe that's the poison in the pill.

Today I and assorted other profs froze our tuches off while decorating Lake Forest College's 130th commencement. Tomorrow Emily, Sadie, and I set off for Ithaca; and Tuesday, I fly to Brussels for the Poetic Ecologies conference. Blogging may be even more sporadic than usual for a while.

Am I a sap for anything that's been, a sieve for anyone, for feeling tremendously excited about Obama's having cinched the Democratic nomination? Then a sap, a sieve I must be.

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