There are at least two kinds of weird in avant-garde theater. There’s the quirky, charming, occasionally nonsensical, but still accessible and welcoming kind of weird. And then there’s the exclusionary, so off the wall it warrants its own map, alienating kind of weird.
Sibyl Kempson’s new show — a collaboration produced by Script Works, Fusebox Festival, Physical Plant, Rude Mechs, Rubber Repertory and Salvage Vanguard Theater — playing now through April 19 at Salvage Vanguard Theater, falls into the latter category.
"From the Pig Pile: The Requisite Gesture(s) of Narrow Approach" undoubtedly warrants the label "postmodern" and probably falls more into the realm of performance art than theater.
Unconventional, chaotic, and overtly rejecting coherency, the performance opens by treating its audience like cattle. Herded from space to space (and even roped in at times), we are treated to the experience of institutional dehumanization: sorted, classified, and stamped, then brusquely moved from queue to queue without explanation while sterile docents shout instructions at us.
In hasty individual interviews, delivered in rapid-fire monotone, we are asked about our willingness to let go – of our memories, of our car keys, and (importantly) of our need for narrative structure.
Typically game for whatever theater practitioners want to throw at me, I let these ones take me on the journey of their choice, relinquishing my right to a narrative. Unfortunately for me, this lead to a discovery that I’m only willing or able to be taken so far down the primrose path of theatrical experiment before exhaustion sets in.
While I found certain moments and monologues temporarily captivating, these snippets of insight were laced in between a long series of random scenarios that even the plot resolution worksheet (obtained on my way out the door) couldn’t make sense of in a remotely satisfying way.
Without any narrative threads to hold onto, shuttled from space to space through rifts in time and reality, it was difficult to avoid becoming frustrated and bored; hard not to feel like there was something I missed, like everyone knew something I didn’t. And this sort of insider performance art is especially alienating when those of us deeply immersed in the Austin theater community still don’t get it.
To the show’s credit, whatever the performers do, they do well (regardless of whether it makes any sense). Ben Schave’s set design is outstanding – crafting an array of colorful and imaginative spaces to lead us through. Lisa Laratta’s dioramas are amazing, and well worth the few moments we are allowed to explore them.
"From the Pig Pile: The Requisite Gesture(s) of Narrow Approach" continues through April 19 at Salvage Vanguard Theater. www.salvagevanguard.org