On entering The Kitchen this Saturday, I was curious to see how Radiohole had dealt with Chelsea's sizable performance space for the staging of ANGER/NATION, their latest production. The company usually performs at the Collapsable Hole, a theater made from two neighboring garages in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and a space they share with fellow experimental theater company Collapsable Giraffe. The Collapsable Hole is cozy and a little claustrophobic. There are no chairs, just large steps with movable pillows, which do not seat more than fifty people. Watching Radiohole in their own performance space is raw and intimate, their ultra technological sets making it feel as though you just entered a post-apocalyptic underground world: red lights, monitors every where, exposed bricks, and familiar objects used for unfamiliar purposes. It was difficult to imagine their work in the clean and fashionable Chelsea space.
Yet for their performance at The Kitchen , Radiohole successfully recreated that sense of intimacy and technological overload by using only about a third of the stage’s depth, and building a fiberglass firework-like structure that bursts towards the audience, mini monitors attached to the end of each rod, physically breaking the imaginary fourth wall between audience and stage. In this production, a large, bluish-grey, cardboard moon hangs above stage right, and the set is dissected through the middle by a ramp that ascends to a darkened backstage. Horizontal, color-changing panels act as a back drop, while on the sides and the front of the stage are visible various light and sound switches: Radiohole members usually operate all the cues in their performances.
ANGER/NATION’s set alone is like a sculpture, and could survive as an installation even when not inhabited by its performers. It is a little like a space ship, filled with light switches and monitors, almost breathing, with its changing colors and tiny movements. Yet the performers are there, all the way from the beginning: pouring beer for the audience, talking to each other, attempting drunken speeches, some of them wearing adjusted German folk dresses complete with embroidered edelweiss. For this show, Radiohole has centered around the historical character of Mrs. Carrie A. Nation (Maggie Hoffman), the “Bar Room Smasher” born in “Garrard farm, Kentucky” in 1846. After loosing her husband to drinking and sailors, Mrs. Nation takes on the quest of cleansing America of "sin and degradation" by destroying every bar she sets foot in. Like in other Radiohole productions, narrative is non-linear, and Mrs. Nation’s story appears at intervals between songs, disturbing tableaux, and violent repetitive acts, as when two of the men on stage repeatedly shoot each other’s buttocks with air guns.
About half way through the performance, pink American flags make their appearance on the background monitors, and Mrs. Nation declares that all will participate in her crusade: more specifically “if they are women, they will join [her], and if they are boys, they will follow [her] unwillingly”. Mrs. Nation’s crusade, with its conservative thrust and Born-Again Christian overtones, brings to mind the real world, and at one time Miss Alaska runner-up, Governor Sarah Palin. In fact, Radiohole’s emphasis on questions of gender and sexuality, as well as their dissection of religious zealotism, could not come at a more salient time in the history of American politics.
Mrs. Nation's crusade eventually takes on an unexpected turn, and the pregnant actress finally appears to us in a radically different attire from the widow like costume in which she first descends onto the stage. The conclusion of the performance is at once surprising and thought-provoking: disclosing it would decrease its efficacy.
ANGER/NATION deals with sex, alcohol, queerness and decadence, with great irony and without sparing the macabre and the gruesome. Filled with chauvinistic jokes, beer smashing, and unexpected props, such as the prehensile penis on actor Eric Dyer, ANGER/NATION is a visceral experience, often overwhelming, sometimes digressive, and always provocative and challenging. Radiohole’s latest production proves once again their unique position as a company on the cutting edge of performance, one taking risks and, on this occasion, breathing fresh air into the now fashionable Chelsea district. There is no one like them in New York.
September 24-27, 8pm