Theatre News - Criticism: June 2009 Archives
Reality TV isn't really real. Maybe you've noticed. It's more like an enormous vetting process that demands, if not humiliation, then a deep and abiding display of humility before the eyes of God, America, and Simon Cowell.
If you can endure that, and game the rules a bit, too, you might be a star.
Ironically, those rules can have little to do with the task at hand. Judges for So You Think You Can Dance, for instance, have shown less interest in a contestant's dancing ability than in his or her willingness to mug and preen and be subjected to all manner of invasive interrogation: Show us your dirty laundry or pay the price.
This was brought into sharp relief in 2007 when Danny Tidwell, an elite dancer and former member of New York's American Ballet Theater, was ridiculed by judges for appearing to be, as he awaited their decision, "God's gift to the world." He flew in the face of television storytelling convention -- arrogance is always a thin veil for deep-seated insecurity. If you don't show your true self -- the self that is ostensibly, in Tidwell's case, a vulnerable little boy -- you're not being true to yourself or to the rest of America.
And that, my friend, is bad TV.
Such is the power of television that it makes even elite dancers like Tidwell behave in ways inconceivable before his appearance on the show. And it's this power to manipulate people into pretending to be something they are not that fascinates Liesbeth Gritter.
Gritter is a founding member of Kassys, a Dutch theater company based in Amsterdam. She and partner Mette van der Sijs are making their American debut during Spoleto with the premiere of Good Cop Bad Cop.
They travel around the world creating abstract works for the stage, using live acting and lots of film to exploit the bizarro world between the authentic self and the invented self.
Their production, called Good Cop Bad Cop, was inspired by reality TV, which, while commonplace in the U.S., is still somewhat novel in the Netherlands. Gritter, being relatively new to its perverse appetite for humiliating otherwise proud individuals, believes TV encourages fear of being normal. Good Cop Bad Cop therefore examines what ordinary people do in extraordinary situations, like a reality TV show.
"People are asked all the time to comment in news stories about things
they know nothing about," Gritter says. "But because they are on TV,
they feel compelled to talk about something, even when what they are
saying is actually saying nothing at all."
OK, so he has a face like Clive Owen. OK, so he has a physique like Matthew McConaughey. OK, so he’s also a gymnast — limber, strong, durable.
OK, OK, OK. Enough, already. And by the way, so what? Some of us know how to type. Really, really, really, really fast.
Who does Mr. Fabulous think he is? Don Juan?
Well, yes. In fact, he does.
Gardarsson originated the lead in the American premiere of Don John. The play is the contemporary update of the classic myth of Don Juan, the original ladykiller, the first international playboy, the proto-womanizer, the Ur-man of mystery.
“Every man has wanted to be Don Juan and love 1,000 women at some point in his life.” Gardarsson says by phone from London. “It’s really interesting to play a devil like that.”
Sheesh, Señor Gisli. You don’t have to rub it in.
Director Emma Rice adapted the story from Mozart’s operatic version, Don Giovanni. But she set the story in the context of a carnival to suggest the uninhibited and unleashed sexuality of the hero. In fact, the staging is extremely physical. Much of what’s communicated between characters happens with the body.
But the master is Don John. He’s a real 60-minute man. He prowls and then he comes over. But never too soon. He smokes, he drinks. He takes pleasure in not just his women but in seeing other men looking at him looking at women who are looking at him.
And no one stops him. Why? Because he behaves badly, and it rubs off easily. Others follow in his wake, like sloppy seconds. Yet he’s convinced he’s not such a bad guy, Gardarsson says, trying to explain some of the tangled up psychology at work inside Don John’s head. He knows he’s breaking hearts, but he’s lost. He’s looking for something, but he doesn’t know what it is.
And — in the hope that we hate him an eensy-weensy bit less — it turns out he’s in pain.