Theater Review

Ate the Sandwich. Left the Show.

Or, Another Night With Performance Art

By Steve Wiecking March 6, 2009

No Dice. Indeed.

Several minutes into No Dice, in which New York City’s Nature Theater of Oklahoma performs four hours of transcribed phone conversations, a woman in the back row suffered an alarming loss of consciousness and, after coming to, had to be escorted downstairs to a waiting ambulance. I hope she’s okay, I thought as the production picked up right where it left off, But she has a lot of nerve stealing my idea. I had a few other thoughts as the night wore on—“Why don’t I wear a watch anymore?” chief among them—but never got over my feeling that the poor woman got out while the gettin’ was good.

The night began well enough with the company making us our choice of sandwiches (peanut butter and jelly or ham and cheese) as we filed in. Then they offered us Diet Coke or Dr. Pepper. I love Dr. Pepper. The low-rent ham and cheese hit the spot, too.

But the production started and—well, here’s the thing: I didn’t read the press kit. I knew the show was going to be weird and I figured, hell, your average joe isn’t going to have the benefit of a press kit to explain what’s going on so let’s just see how it feels to walk in blind.

I didn’t like being an average joe. The program had few clues: the company named itself after a Kafka quote (a fact which inspired my loss of consciousness plan); they were striving “to create an unsettling live situation that demands total presence from everyone in the room” (a dream quashed by the woman in the back row); and a note from UW doctoral candidate Jentery Sayers suggested that “becoming familiar first demands a defamiliarization” (I’ll be calling Sayers’ advisory committee as soon as I’m done here).

From what I gathered during my imprisonment, the performers dressed as a pirate, red-wigged vixen, caped bat and so on had earpieces connected to iPods which allowed them to repeat mixed-up dialogue taken from taped chats they’d had with each other and their friends. This would explain the references to Actor’s Equity, headshots, auditions, et al. I don’t know why they were using silly accents, except that silly accents are sometimes funny. (And, sometimes, they were funny. These are, I bet, very funny people when they’re not assuming I need to spend four hours with them.)

What’s unfortunate—I mean, of course, aside from the four-hour hubris —is that the company is smart enough to realize there’s something touching about how connected we all are at this particular moment in history yet it throws that away in the name of epic indulgence. Insular, irritating theater jokes notwithstanding, a lot of what was being said very amusingly mirrors a lot of what the rest of us spend our time obsessing about (eating better; not knowing what eating better means; the pros and cons of alcohol; the razor’s edge of dread/hope that everybody’s walking along these days; and the dream that a good workout regime is the answer to all of life’s ills). And if they want to cap all that off by throwing themselves with wild abandon into a random, beatboxed “sexy robot” dance, why not? I don’t think I’ll ever see anyone as committed to a sexy robot dance as these performers were and, honestly, I like them for it.

But fun is fun until someone loses four hours. I didn’t want to lose four hours, I saw no evidence of why I should lose four hours, and at intermission—after 90 minutes of contemplating whether or not my resistance to four hours made me a bad person—I left. I do hope that woman in the back row is okay.

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