Monday, February 22, 2010

Whatever Heaven Allows (WHA?!)

"Romantic scenes require careful rehearsal," explains Joseph Silovsky, watching as Maggie Hoffman and Eric Dyer end up locking arms rather than lips, wrestling one another to the ground. "Anything over five seconds," adds Mark Jaynes, "will usually cause the wrong audience reaction." Or, as Erin Douglass interjects throughout the play, sometimes taking off her glasses for emphasis, "Freud. Do you understand now?" Perhaps one reason for the acronymic subtitle of Radiohole's latest, Whatever Heaven Allows, is that the answer is no, most assuredly not, particularly if you haven't seen All That Heaven Allows, a 1954 weepie starring Rock Hudson. As with their last piece, Anger/Nation, this anarchic group seems to be looking for the wrong reaction, taking conventions so far that by comparison, the original "sin" pales in comparison--in this case, the widowed Carrie's (Hoffman's) acceptance and then rejection of the much younger (and socially unequal) arborist Ron Kirby's (Dyer's) marriage proposal. It's no surprise that an innocent deer (Kourtney Rutherford)--a less-than-subtle bit of symbolism from the 1954 film--is filmed in debauched positions throughout the show, and closes the film-within-a-film by pissing on the floor.

The question I'm left with is whether Radiohole is too energetic for its own good: that is, whether or not the manic, occasionally dangerous performances, distract from the thematic underbelly of their press releases. (For instance, WHA?! claims to feature Hoffman as Carrie as Eve and Dyer as Kirby as Satan, mashing up bits of Paradise Lost, but while I may not be expert enough to notice the references--save a comment about a morning star in the prologue--the majority of audiences aren't going to be autodidacts.) Questioning that question, then, is whether that even matters, or if the performance is all. (To be fair, they offer free beer, of which they themselves indulge: the frat-boy Richard Foremans.) Neither question is easily answered: the gut oscillates throughout WHA?! from confused lulls ("Flowers of all hue, and without thorn the rose, meanwhile murm'ring waters fall down the slope hills, dispers'd, or in lake...") to edgy curiosity (the contents of colored shot glasses being flung into the actors' faces) and shocked excitement (a karaoke "I Am Woman").

Also complicating things is the use of dramatic tools to slay the actual drama of WHA?! As Hoffman explains in her descriptive denouement, "This is where the drama that Radiohole won't deliver happens." Within the show, too, the company neatly abbreviates melodrama in a way that exaggerates the pettiness of bourgeois concerns: "So busy. Much to do. Red hair. Knockers. Enormous. Engagements. Requirements," says Douglass, preparing for a dinner party. Summing up two of the men--the ones who would knock down Carrie's love for Ron--"Man, man, man--booze, booze, booze (dick joke), ha-ha-ha! (boob joke) ha-ha-ha!" Incisive, yet at the same time reduced to so little that it leaves the talkier bits of this experimental work feeling dreary and bland.

The introduction to Radiohole's film-within-a-film brags that they are ASSholeOCIATED, and the anarchically entertaining bits of WHA?! give truth to that. But here's what we learn--perhaps intentionally, perhaps not: we do need some limits. "Whatever" cannot be the norm; if everything is allowed, after all, then nothing is permitted.

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