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    Performance Anxiety

    With "ANGER/NATION," their 9th show in 10 years, Radiohole once again turn up the volume on New York's experimental theater scene.


    If you're a Radiohole fan, chances are you've already bought your ticket for "ANGER/NATION." If you've seen and hated Radiohole shows in the past, chances are there's nothing I could say to talk you into this one. If you've never seen a Radiohole show, my advice is to take the plunge and check them out. There's no other company quite like them, and while you may very well hate the experience, the $15 ticket price will, at the very least, allow you to regale your friends with stories about a weird-ass downtown show you saw — a show in which one of the performers walked around with his scrotum showing while a woman in a vaguely satanic-looking corset ruptured aluminum beer bottles with a hatchet, spraying half of the audience with cheap domestic suds.

    Cast: Eric Dyer, Scott Halvoersen Gillettee, Maggie Hoffman, Iver Findlay..
    Production design by: Radiohole.
    Video Design: So Yong Kim, Iver Findlay, and Radiohole.
    The Kitchen
    512 West 19th St. (btw. 10th and 11th Ave.)
    Sept. 11-27, 2008

    "ANGER/NATION," the latest offering from the performance collective, has all of the post-punk energy, assaults on the senses, and hi-tech / lo-fi collisions their fans have come to expect. The dual title reflects the show's dual inspirations: the story material (insofar as any Radiohole production can be said to have a "story") focuses on Carrie A. Nation, a late nineteenth/early twentieth-century temperance activist who was known for attacking alcohol-serving bars with a hatchet. Stylistically, the production is (in part) a tribute to Kenneth Anger, the notorious avant-garde filmmaker whose oeuvre includes titles like "Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome" (1954/1966), "Rabbit's Moon" (1950-1972/1979), and'Lucifer Rising" (1970-1980).

    As with most of their work, the glory of "ANGER /NATION" is that all of its esoteric references, confrontational bawdry, and unapologetic inscrutability don't keep it from being a fun, exciting, even welcoming evening of theater. Audience members enter the space to be greeted by tankards of free beer and an apparently drunken performance artist in a dirty sleeveless t-shirt and a costume-shop centurion helmet. More than a dozen video screens hover above the stage on curved mounts, forming a kind of cyberpunk fern, or post-apocalyptic sculpture of a palm tree. Sounds both digital and analog, ambient and recorded, resonant and dissonant, race through the speakers on all sides of the theater, enveloping the audience in a soundscape that complements the landscape.

    Once the performance gets going in earnest, the relaxed, interactive atmosphere fades somewhat, but the high-octane, anarchic energy is kicked up even further. To describe the various elements of the production would do little describe the experience of watching it (for an example of my trying to do so, however, click here for my review of 2007's "Fluke"). The overall effect is like watching your friends put on a show in their basement, only your friends are the smartest people you've ever met, and they have access to some really cool technology, boundless energy, impressive discipline, a lot of time to rehearse, and memories of some pretty good drugs.

      The overall effect is like watching your friends put on a show in their basement, only your friends are the smartest people you've ever met, and they have access to some really cool technology, boundless energy, impressive discipline, a lot of time to rehearse, and memories of some pretty good drugs.
    Radiohole has been around for ten years now. After a decade spent collecting awards, grants, and fellowships, traveling to festivals around the world, playing to packed houses, and receiving glowing (if sometimes perplexed) reviews, the question must be asked: for how much longer can they be considered the enfants terribles of New York's avant-garde theater? Can icons be iconoclasts? Can stalwarts still be rebels?

    "ANGER/NATION," is not billed as a meditation on the company's accrual of cultural capital, but some anxiety about these issues does seem to have seeped into the mix. In a characteristically punk-inflected assault on the audience early in the show, one of performers screams out that Radiohole is tired both of imitators and of those who claimed to understand them or tried to package them politically. Radiohole is making performance history, he asserts, and we in the audience are merely there to witness and record it.

      Can icons be iconoclasts? Can stalwarts still be rebels?
    A less typical segment, at the tail end of the performance, is a parody of the often unbearable post-show discussions that occasionally follow not-for-profit performances. This scene can be read in a number of ways, including as a test of the audience's patience (several audience members walked out once they realized the sound and fury had ended and that this odd coda to the performance might well go on indefinitely.)

    While the words are clearly not really theirs, though (the source of the text is uncredited), and while they are on some level pretentious and ridiculous, the delivery of this passage does seem to indicate a genuine frustration with a number of aspects of contemporary performance. Lampooning both self-important artists and the audiences and critics who dissect and attempt to reduce their work to its "meaning," Radiohole may also be revealing an uneasiness with their place in the culture that produces such absurd exchanges.

    Given this thematic undercurrent, I'll resist the impulse to write about "ANGER/NATION" as a meditation on nationalism as occultism, or ideology as aestheticized ritual. Instead I'll just encourage you again to make your way to The Kitchen to catch this show. There won't be anything like it in town until the unveiling of whatever Radiohole cooks up next.

    SEPTEMBER 23, 2008

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