By Cason Murphy, director of POP
Back in May of this year, I wandered into a gutted bank-turned-theatre in the heart of Union Square in New York to experience Fuerza Bruta alongside Tiffany and Alex – our buddy/tour guide extraordinaire. After a brisk ninety minutes and feeling like we pretty much got our half-priced tickets’ worth, our motley trio emerged slightly damp and each covered in confetti to varying degrees. In fact, for several weeks after, Tiffany would randomly find some stowaway pieces of paper from the evening in her purse and the experience would get rehashed and discussed anew. There was no denying we had been there; we’d literally been carrying it around with us.
And all I can wonder is – isn’t that the point? Life is messy, so why shouldn’t our theatre be messy, too?
This adage is particularly prescient in the work of Jen Huszcza. When I get the pleasure of directing one of her shows (this year’s festival marks the second time I have – hopefully – risen to the challenge), there is no doubt that something has happened onstage. I love making messy theatre and Jen’s plays help fuel that. You could maybe write all of this off on my part as a masculine veni, vidi, vici desire to have left my mark whereof I have been – the dick-swinging bombast of the LOOK AT WHAT I HAVE CREATED-ness of it all...
Or maybe it’s that all-too-human resonance of the intangible made tangible.
It’s the reason why live theatre hasn’t been entirely blighted out by movies or reality television or live-streaming – we go to see something real, even if it’s shrouded in disreality. It’s why the sight of all of those poncho-clad front-row thrill-seekers getting splattered with watermelon in old Gallagher specials that HBO runs at 2 AM some Tuesday mornings still elicits chuckles. It’s why I stood beneath a giant mylar “pool,” my confetti-speckled face inches from an actress in performance above me – the two of us holding our breaths: one to keep the water out of their upper respiratory system; the other in awe; both together because we were there, waiting…to see what might happen next.
Last year, in the first Jen play I directed, she has two actors repeatedly dunk another actor in water. I knew I’d made the right choice when about half an hour after my incessant begging to direct Rinse was indulged, sheer terror set in. The beautiful, terrifying, soppy mess that Jen had put on the page had to happen. There would be no faking it. No magic tricks, no sleight of hand, no cool technical solutions – just an actor being dunked in water. Repeatedly.
When it happened, actually happened, it was liberating. Yes, it was unsettling (although me dancing around in the light booth out of sheer enjoyment at the simulation of a man being tortured and drowned is probably more unsettling). However, and more importantly, the whole experience was liberating – because something messy happened. And whether they were in the splash zone or not, our audience felt it happen. Even our stage crew got a round of applause after they quickly mopped up the puddles we had left on stage. There was a theatricality in that happening too.
With Rinse, not once did discussions of the Bush-era torture policies regarding “enemy combatants” surface. That leaping-off point was so close and ultimately so far from what ended up happening onstage. I ultimately don’t think Jen or I are interested in making theatre about “politics.” (But if we were, what better place to learn how to make a mess?) I’ve seen too much agitprop and the really subtle “Bush is Bad – the Musical” to know that on-the-nose stuff only flies with really excitable fringe groups.
That said, this year’s offering from Miss Huszcza – Pop – does plumb some timely social depths. Pop is more effusive and ebullient in its mess than Rinse, yet it is my hope that this might be more of a mess you carry around for a while after. As evidenced by its visceral title, this year’s piece is a bit more concerned with what the audience hears happening.
Now, excuse me, but I have to go blow up some balloons.