Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Offending the Audience

Photo/Max Ruby

The bad news is that after forty years, Peter Handke's play, Offending the Audience, no longer does so. The good news is that after forty years, Peter Handke's play, Offending the Audience, no longer does so: instead, it's an lively bit of non-theater that's been stripped down to negations and contradictions, and then dressed back up in turtlenecks and flawless dictions. In fact, it's so elegant that it's rarely shocking, unless you're surprised to find what could very well be a mixed-gender group of Deal or No Deal models speaking lucidly about the world of the stage that they are deconstructing: "We have no need of illusions to disillusion you."

But for a mob of 21 young actors -- playing themselves as they play with Handke's words -- they don't do much to smash through our staid conventions. They stand in place a lot, or sit, parallel to us, on a long bench across the wide-screen space of the Flea's underground theater. When they come up to the knee-high divider between us and them, they only occasionally cross it, and though they make eye contact, most of the crowd responded in kind, enough to the point where it actually seemed to unsettle some of the actors -- a few refused to acknowledge us at all, throwing their insults away on empty chairs instead. (Not that they weren't ever successful; I think I did fairly well matching Ronald Washington's gaze considering he was inches from my front-row face, but I eventually flinched.) Perhaps director Jim Simpson meant for this to happen: perhaps this unoffensive bit of play (that is not, they repeat, not a play) is meant to break down our barriers by not breaking them down. It is, after all, a play of contradictions.

The biggest and most delightful reversal is that all this talk of inaction is brought to life in a wonderfully active way: the actors trill their lines, merge powerfully together as a Greek chorus, and all look extremely attractive while doing so. Out of respect to the hard-working cast (and as practice for the few cast members who seem flat), I recommend that you stick around for Act II. If you can get past their intimidating wall of silence, you'll realize at last that once all the fun and games are over, the essential truth of the show -- that audience and actor are intrinsically no different -- shines through. That is, we may be "Merovingian dark agers," or "bimbos and bimbets," hell, even "killer pigs," but then again, so are they. So are we.

2 comments:

SUMMA POLITICO said...

here are some links to handke sites.
first of all to http://www.handketrans.scriptmania.com
which has an updating the insults of offending the audience


HANDKE LINKS + BLOGS
SCRIPTMANIA PROJECT MAIN SITE: http://www.handke.scriptmania.com
and 12 sub-sites

http://www.handkelectures.freeservers.com [the drama lecture]

http://www.handke.scriptmania.com/realblog.html
[pertaining to scriptmania matters]


http://www.kultur.at/see/roloff.htm

[dem handke auf die schliche/ prosa, a book of mine about Handke]

http://handke-discussion.blogspot.com/ [the current American Scholar caused controversy about Handke, reviews, detailed of Coury/Pilipp's THE WORKS OF PETER HANDKE]

http://www.artscritic.blogspot.com [some handke material, too, the Milosevic controversy summarized]

Ryammm said...

We did this play in college. And our director was very brilliant that we actually offended a few people for real, including our dean, who walked out of the theater.