In which bliss happens -- in a gay bar -- risks are taken, and a corsage is made of condoms.
Monday, March 26, 1:48 p.m.
My third eye just imploded. I am definitely in some zone of bliss. I just saw Batch: An American Bachelor/ette Party Spectacle.
New Paradise Laboratories is a group from Philly that's been working together for ten years and for two years on this piece. Actors Theatre commissioned playwright Alice Tuan to work with director Whit MacLaughlin and his company on Batch, which is the second in a series on rites of passage and follows Prom, a piece they developed with Minneapolis Children's Theatre.
Batch is performed at The Connection, a gay bar in Louisville. The stage is a raised platform with seats on three sides and four video screens placed on the back wall and behind the seats. It's in a back room, so you walk through the empty drag-show spaces and past bars, between pillars and down a hallway: it's a little eerie. Coming into the back room, you can buy a drink at the bar and find a seat either down on the floor around the stage or at tables which are a few steps higher.
On the screens there's a man walking, looking at you. His image moves from one screen to the next as he circles the space. Hypnotic music is playing. There are two chairs on the platform, which looks somehow like a boxing ring. Gradually, a woman in a red dress rises from a trapdoor and stands on the platform, turning slowly as she watches the audience. One hand is behind her back with her fingers crossed, the other hand is delicately active. She smiles, or not. It's an extension of the moment of being observed and observing back, stretched to a fascinating abstraction.
One by one, rising smoothly (how do they do that??) through the trapdoor, come her five friends, all in red dresses. Except three of them are men. There's a video camera on a small tripod, which films the action onstage, so you are always watching both the live action and what's happening on the screens. The friends start planning a bachelorette party for the bride-to-be, Betsy Competitive. There's bickering, suggestions for themes (pirates?), and an ugly moment when the maid of honor (the biggest, hairiest guy) realizes she's been demoted.
There's movement. Glorious, precise, trust-filled, risky hurling of bodies in a precarious space that took my breath away. It exhilarated me, and made me so sad: The current trend of cost-cutting, ever-shorter rehearsal time means that many actors are lucky if we have three weeks before tech, so we will rarely experience this kind of rigor and consequent richness of expression. These actors clearly love their work: It's impossibly demanding, and they achieve the impossible. Their articulation is so precise: It's as if they are aware of the molecules in the air that are displaced as they move toward and away from each other.
There's language, too, brilliantly veering from the most banal, dumb stuff we all say when we're choosing a stripper for a pre-wedding blowout, to heightened poetry that captures the stuttering of the mind when that stripper shows up and a line is crossed.
There's fabulousness in every sense of the word: myths explored onscreen and onstage, the american taboo of sexuality sliced, diced and cuisinarted, and I didn't even get to the penises. There's one that squirts, several that get ripped off, and a real one that's tenderly shielded onstage while its image is projected on all four screens. Gender-bending to the nth degree, the actors all have boobies and packages and fluidly switch back and forth between the bridal party and the groomsmen.
The Twizzler outfit did not disappoint, neither did Madame Pompadour in her teal thong, nor a blow job involving a microphone. The condom corsage was a stroke of genius. And the goat-hide-chaps-wearing, sparring-partner-helmeted and -gloved satyr gently rubbing his/her horn up and down the bride's particulars floored me: a beautifully articulated vision of myth, porn and intimacy.
Did I mention it's funny? Funny in that "Oh my God I can't believe they just did that but I'm SO glad they did" kind of way. These guys paint a picture of sex, friendship, intimacy and ritual in America that made me laugh, squirm from the truthfulness of their performance, and hope that maybe, just maybe, if theatre artists are doing work like this, we will some day live in a country that isn't fractured by denial. Where a penis apron can be worn with pride.
This show runs here through April 1st. They will remount it in Philadelphia in September, for two weeks. Don't miss it. And someone has to bring it to DC.