The Playgoer: Rambling Towards Bethlehem

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Rambling Towards Bethlehem

by chris mills

Hello Playgoer Reader and welcome to the Tuesday & Friday leg of your guest blogger sojourn. While we shall miss the stylings of the real Playgoer, we may be able to suffer through together.

While I love theater and plays proper, I’ll also be thinking aloud about some things adjacent as well, though I’ll try to limit the rambling. The two things that I adore as much as good live performance, but will try to not write to much about are:

-Food, though this will be difficult (as I’d love to discuss the quite nice zucchini-ricotta pie made recently from my Brooklyn-roof grown zuchs)(Or if you know a good place to get preserved radicchio locally, I’d love to hear…).

-My bike, even though the joy of riding around this city in summer really often feels boundless—breezy, people-watch-y, healthy and free—the best summer theater ever! For instance, yesterday, around 5, I caught whiff of celery being sautéed in butter. Unmingled with onion. Or garlic. Just green, bright butter and celery for no reason, there on 10th Street. I had to stop and sniff, and mention to a passerby who also seemed olfactorily satisfied with the wee sniffy gem. I was on my way to see Lou Reed’s Berlin which I’m sure many of you know is Julian Schnabel’s documentation of the rock opera that Reed wrote in ’73, which tanked and then was never performed entirely again…until now (dum dum dummm). Perhaps some of you saw the performance at St. Ann’s Warehouse? I was, however, misled by a friend on a goose-chase to hunt up Schnabel’s crazy, grand, faux-palazzo, since it was such a lovely evening…and so, more on Berlin anon. (If you’re interested GO TODAY, as it is the last day…Then we can fire up that old chainsaw of the live vs. the documentation for fun!)

The true, theater-adjacent subject of this post (for we are at last headed there) is Paul McCarthy. For what I urge you to see is not a play (for mayhaps you need no urging?), but rather a terrific installation at the Whitney, entitled Central Symmetrical Rotation Movement: Three Installations, Two Films. Now, you will be delightfully lucky because the price of admit also includes the spectacular Buckminster Fuller show—the reason we’ve been lucky enough to hear his ideas bandied about so much this spring/summer. So give yourself some time for the Dymaxion car, of course. But, there, on the second floor, is another real delight.

Curatorially linked to the Fuller show, but much more emotionally resonant, this grouping of McCarthy’s work combines new, old and previously conceived but never before realized, work. What will pull you, if you’re at all like me, immediately into the show, is one of the most troublingly evocative sounds ever: the slamming door. The largest component of the show (aside from the installed mirror wall, which bisects the space and really provides a vertiginous, fun-house feel to the proceedings), Bang Bang Room (1992) involves a room, briefly put, that opens and closes. Imagine a smallish room, whose walls all hinge open, and close, like gull wings. When in motion, you can stand on the “floor” of the room and watch the walls close in on you or stand outside and watch the folks inside disappear and be surrounded by room (go here for images). But before the piece begins its claustrophobic shape shifting, four doors, one in each wall/wing, begin to madly slam. The sound refuses to be ignored and is full of childhood fears, lovers’ spats, tearful exits and desire for solitude.

The theater of this work (something I’d mention even if not at the Playgoer...) performs in exactly the way I admire: it presents a clear economy of idea and feeling, with the least amount of pretense or unnecessary obfuscation (even if the concept concerns the ways things and people are obscured and unearthed within the domestic sphere). If you don’t know McCarthy’s work, you mightn’t realize that his other domestic investigations are often more viscous (with gallons of functioning fluids) in their material and perhaps more heavy-handed—though still very powerful—in their imagery. But this show’s architectural precision and conceptual clarity link it forcefully to the history of McCarthy’s investigations and make it worth the trip uptown.

Sorry so lengthy—but hey, I had to introduce my peripatetic self. More on Friday...or perhaps sooner....



Hullo! Welcome to the blogosphere...

Before I properly comment, just two things: (1) I, too, am a foodie, and love love love zucchini); (2) TODAY'S THE LAST DAY OF BERLIN? Whaaaat! I only just recently read about this somewhere (I think it may have been the Village Voice), and wanted to see it...

Now. Onto McCarthy. As a former art student, this sounds really interesting; plus, as I am usually a Met regular, I have been meaning to branch out to places like The Whitney, The Cloisters, et. al. One thing: is McCarthy the artist that did the installation of the sun? I could be wrong, but his name sounds so familiar.

Happy blogging!

chris mills said...


Yes! it is the last day, so scramble on over to Film Forum! And, Nigella Lawson was on NPR yesterday AM and talked about "Happiness Soup" and if you google the recipe, you'll see it's main ingredients are squash (i used zuch) basmati rice and lemon zest. it's quite good...

last--i do not know this sun installation! i thought maybe you meant Cai Guo-Qiang cuz he does lots of fire/firecracker stuff (he had a big show at the gugg a few months back...)? But McCarthy is a california sculptor, whose work has lots of performance elements. he's been working and influencing others since the 70s. Tell me more about the sun piece and perhaps we can track down the link. I hope you go see the show...

thanks much for responding!