Monday, September 20, 2010

THEATER: Roadkill Confidential

Hit or miss, the work of Sheila Callaghan and producing company Clubbed Thumb is always raw, unusual, and exciting. Roadkill Confidential fits that mold, lightly borrowing from the narrative conventions of a noir flick to examine the intersections of art and violence. (To be exact, the subtitle reads “a noir-ish meditation on brutality.”) It’s an interesting but not entirely effective choice, for while the stylized interrogations of the FBI Man (Danny Mastrogiorgio) allow for some back-door philosophizing (i.e., it’s not overt), they don’t exactly let us connect with the characters--i.e., the art gets in the way. The show is funny, original, and intriguing, and that may not be enough.

Art professor William (Greg McFadden) compares the work of his “partner,” Trevor (Rebecca Henderson), to that of Guillermo Vargas, who “exhibited” live, suffering dogs as a way of pointing out the “hypocrisy” of audiences who took exception to this—not because it was cruel, but because it was called art (i.e., they still ignored the starving dogs in the street). It’s in that light that he allowed Trevor to use photographs of his wife’s death (car crash), happy to ride her notorious fame, and with little thought to how this might affect his son Randy (Alex Anfanger). Now, seven years later, she’s using roadkill to build a sculpture—but because she wants the audience to feel the danger, they’re all killers themselves, laced with a biological weapon that kills on touch. Do we safely watch, or do we interfere and risk death?

By taking a hands-off approach, however, the play invites us to do the same. Callaghan uses a lot of illusion-shattering tricks in her script, and director Kip Fagan reinforces them. For instance, the FBI Man is able to use his bad eye to get inside people’s heads, freezing the action as he does so, speaking for them. Occasionally, when Trevor opens her mouth to speak, war reports from the news come out. Prerecorded clips of “local” news are exaggeratedly delivered by a fear-mongering news anchor. Couple this with Peter Ksander’s military-laboratory set—a diorama-looking affair, boxed off from the audience—and the use of Shaun Irons and Lauren Petty’s video design, and the installation grows more and more distant. Callaghan can already be pretty abstract in her writing (although always beautifully, poetically so), and that makes it hard to stay present, to be affected by the symbolism.

“If we did not know the relationship of the artist to the subject / Would we still feel the emotional impact of the work?” The answer in this case is no: we don't get enough of the relationships, so it all feels a bit appropriated and neglected. For instance, the All-American Stand In—their neighbor, Melanie (Polly Lee), who is a perfectly abhorrent babbling and dabbling woman, filled with false intimacy—doesn’t exactly conjure up our sympathy. She is a visible brush-stroke, a flourish of comic relief. The robust pas-de-deux between Trevor and her surveiller is terrific, but what it shows is that if Roadkill Confidential is a work of art, it's one that has yet to be unveiled.

No comments: