A Western, East Williamsburg-Style

10/22/2010 7:00 AM |

Git Along Lil Doggies
Text from The Place of Dead Roads by William S. Burroughs and Open Range: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx
Directed, designed and choreographed by Yvan Greenberg

On a sparse, windswept mesa three cowboys—two baddies, one worse—are dancing. They dance in place, while they speak, and as they cross the stage towards the remote homestead kept by a strange woman, who also dances. Their movements combine line-dances, tap dance and a sort of Irish stepdance. They aren't moving to country-western or Irish folk music, though. The sound design in Laboratory Theater's Git Along Lil Doggies (through October 30), like everything else about this hour-long curio, seems at once full and minimal. A never-ending wind rumbles over the Brick Theater's sound system, one of many elements to evoke David Lynch films; plucky cowboy songs punctuate the performance. Gus Van Sant movies, Sam Shepard plays, Leon Golub paintings and Cormac McCarthy novels constantly come to mind, among other things for the unpredictable juxtaposing of moments of sweet humor and intense violence, and frequent deviations into the telling of tangential stories. The most concise descriptor may be to call this fragmented experimental performance a psychosexual post-Western postmodern composition with cowboys.

If there's something like a narrative to be found in the overlapping, intertwined and conflicting fragments of text and song, it concerns Kim and The Kid's (Corey Dargel and Wil Smith) pursuit of Tom Dark (Oleg Dubson, also playing the Sheriff, which complicates things) and working for Salt Chunk Mary (Sheila Donovan), a cursed farmer-turned-brothel madam. But the plot is about as de-emphasized as it could be without leaving the actors speechless throughout. In fact, as they pass around the one microphone, or hold it up to each other's lips to speak their lines (a superfluous amplification given the tininess of the Brick), one increasingly suspects that the actors are not speaking at all, but lip-synching to an audio track that includes their lines. The use of desert vistas cropped from Marlboro cigarette ads as the backdrop projection—a technique that also evokes the rear-projections used in pre-location shooting Hollywood Westerns—furthers the piece's radical layering of copies upon copies of copies. Along with excerpts of Proulx and Burroughs, one imagines passages from Baudrillard also helped shape director-designer-choreographer Yvan Greenberg's deceptive vision.

But what is the intent of all this obfuscation? The aforementioned artists and many more have explored the hyper-mediated mythical West—and more than a few have also queered this quintessentially heteronormative landscape—so why blaze those trails again? The excursion affords some truly original moments: a kind of tantric, drug-fueled orgy; a dogfight directed almost uncomfortably right at the audience. For such a sparse and intentionally distancing show, Doggies is impressively immersive, its abstraction of a setting so familiar from innumerable fictional forbears consisting almost exclusively of its perpetual chemical sunset backdrops and wind gusts soundtrack (and drugstore cowboy costumes). What comes out of this re-presentation of the Western myth is hardly new—that its supposedly simple black-and-white moral codes are more shaded and dark, that its sexualities, like its shooters, are not all straight; that violence becomes the dominant mode of interaction. Though it does all this in record time and with impressive style, one wishes Doggies would get along to some new chapter in the cowboy chronicles.

(photo credit: Paula Court)