Theater review by Alexis Clements
A week or so ago, this guy I know only very casually got shot. This is not a tragic tale — he’s not dead, in fact he seems to be having a really good laugh over the whole thing. Gonzo, as we’ll call him here, is one of a small network of people who regularly get gigs on the D-list reality television circuit here in New York, which, before hearing his story, I had no idea existed. He was briefly part of a bike messenger reality show a little while back and since then has picked up occasional work subjecting himself to various humiliations for a quick buck. As I understand it, this time around, he was filming for an American variation on a popular Japanese game show called Silent Library in which the point is to not make any noise despite what the hosts and their minions decide to do to you. In his case, they dressed him up in only a bridal veil and a jock strap and then shot him in the shoulder with an air rifle. Apparently the gun was at a higher setting than intended and they broke skin. He got paid a certain sum of money for this, and I believe they gave him a Band-Aid for his wound. Needless to say he did not remain silent after they shot him — I’m sure they got what they were after.
There’s a lot in that story worth dissecting. A lot. Why would a young guy subject himself to that? Hasn’t the Jackass phenomenon come and gone? What kind of reality are they peddling in a show like that? Who is manipulating whom in the production and viewing of such a show? Imagine my surprise, then, when I showed up to see Big Art Group’s newest performance piece, SOS, and found the perfect response to the world that Gonzo’s experience encompasses, not to mention a really awesome, engrossing spectacle.
Of course the show doesn’t address Gonzo’s world specifically, but if
you imagine a fictionalized exploration of the new reality that we’re
creating with 21st century media, then SOS is right on target.
The show involves a faction of transvestite revolutionaries trying to break through the "reality" world and social media mania. They’re participating in and also trying to shake off the constant drive for more product, more stories, more stimulation, more ideas, more, more, more, more. As an audience member the show will overwhelm you at certain moments — mimicking the effect that I think a lot of us feel every day, slogging through endless content and racing to do and see too many things in a day. And that’s entirely intentional on the part of the creators of the show, Caden Manson and Jemma Nelson. What’s also pitch-perfect about the presentation is that it’s full of gorgeous, glittery, shiny, eye-candy, with a total of eight video projection screens, six very attractive and fit cast members, and numerous props. You get a kind of slaphappy nauseous feeling as you watch — something like viewing too many 30-second YouTube videos of animals and people doing really stupid shit over and over again. And the show is often hilarious, though you can expect that the majority of the crowd at The Kitchen will be too cool to laugh. But screw them. The show is outrageous, brilliantly designed, and incredibly smart. Would that all those media studies graduates created commentary like this instead of deadly dull dialectic analyses of our contemporary cultural conundrum.