The Symposium: Sudden Satyrs – Play Doh
A REVIEW BY ACHILLES FEELS
Sometimes, as a reviewer, you just have to ask The Question: what in God’s name were they thinking? First, let me state that I won’t review this piece of performance art as theatre. I’m not sure that would be fair, or do the efforts justice. I’ll review this experience as a performance art installation. Which, it kinda-sorta was. If they want me to call it immersive theatre, I’ll run kicking and screaming from the building until I get my way. #DramaQueen [YUS.-TBO]
I’ve never been to an event at the Terrault Contemporary gallery, but I did know it was directly attached to the copycat building on Guilford Avenue. Which means that I thought I’d run into drunken MICA students, toked-up local “artists,” and perhaps a man brandishing a bloody shiv. I was however pleasantly surprised, as I did not run into anything of the sort. It seems the Terrault Contemporary is divided into two exhibition spaces, a front main-room of sorts that directly opens onto the street and a secondary room off to one side. I truly liked the aesthetic of the main gallery area. It is not a theatre space, though. While the work, by local artist Mark Wehberg did not suit my personal aesthetic, the space was laid out okay, and felt like what it was: an art gallery.
The audience packed in, and I began to wonder what exactly we were to expect of a performance of “immersive” Plato. Suddenly, a lady dressed in a bed sheet called out over the din to my left, and mentioned that somebody’s dinner party was almost over and that we’d be invited to join the festivities and drinking shortly.
She had me at drinking. The bed sheet, though? Not-so-much.
The audience trudged its way into this secondary room which was chocked full of inflatable furniture (hold the phone, did Achilles just say “inflatable furniture?”). I shit-you-not… like that furniture that was in your pothead friend’s college dorm. I did not know if I was supposed to sit, stand, or pee [Def pee. Always pee. – TBO] on an area of the wall to claim my viewing territory. I was unsettled, but calm, and made my way to one end of a large inflatable structure with untoward stains (they were unavoidable). The room was getting overly full, hot, and stuffy…all these people are not going to fit into this room. And well. They did not. People poured into the performance space and there was barely a single spot for actors to maneuver. #FireHazard
Suddenly a few actors dressed in character (what character, I’m not sure, v. unclear) stood up, commanded silence, and began to explain that we just joined them at their soiree. At this point I’m thinking: “Okay. On with the show.” Apparently Socrates had not yet arrived and we were waiting for him to begin this evening’s proceedings. That basic bitch was late to his own party (Attagirl!). They tell me that I can raise my hand, 2 fingers extended, and a “slave” (sic) will bring me a glass of wine.
My hand shot up, just to see what would happen (just me?).
The sheet donned lady brings me red deliciousness in a wineskin and a coffee mug. Srsly? A coffee mug. I’m not stuffy (okay, I am) but you could at least spring for some of those cheap clear plastic wine cups. Not so sure I feel okay about their attempted use at immersion by calling these people “slaves.” Lesigh. Somethings are just not right, no matter the “historical” context. There is such a thing as historical layering, too, and that words has a lotta layers.
Bit by bit, each character stands up and delivers a very long monologue about Love and what Love is and where Love comes from and lots, LOTS more with each trying to one-up the last. It’s boring, long-winded, and just plain unentertaining. I was really disappointed by most of the performances but Ishai Barnoy as Eryximachus and Jeff Tegeler as Pausanius were both convincing and engaging. Part of the difficulty was the inconsistencies. The actors launch into these 18 minute historical monologues (no joke) and then laugh and giggle, and use contemporary dialogue improvisationally in between. It doesn’t gel too well.
Setting-wise, I’m not sure if I was in a leftover gallery space or a thoughtfully curated environment. Intentional? Unintentional? Who knows? Every inch of the walls were covered in paintings and photographs of every style, type, color, and content. It was distracting, and gave the feeling of being in an old abandoned art studio. There was a neat jelly-fish video installation built into the table of the space, but there’s no credit line anywhere so I can’t tell you where that brilliance came from [ETA from Jeffrey Gangwisch: “The “jelly fish,” if you care to know, are my own “Aquaria (2014)” Digital video installation. I wished we had time to create a gallery sheet, but we ran out. Thank you for noticing them!”-TBO]
The actors talk on, and, on…and on. I began to tune out, honestly, and started to think idly about getting the hell out of there. I was done. Ninety minutes later, a band barged into the space, began playing, and everybody commanded the audience to dance. I discretely squeezed out the front door, thankful to get to some cool fresh air. Achilles doesn’t dance. [Awww. Say it ain’t so. -TBO]
The Bottom Line
The Symposium by Plato, adapted by Jeffrey L Gangwisch and Stephani Joyal is, in my view, a performance art installation, not a work of immersive theatre. While interesting in approach, it was not captivating enough to keep my mind off the stains on the inflatable furniture, the boring costumes, the inflatable furniture, the overly cramped room, the inflatable furniture, or the sub-par acting [Hey, Achilles, did you like the inflatable furniture? I’m having a hard time reading you. -TBO]. As an audience member, I didn’t feel comfortable, safe, or engaged. Kudos to the actors for memorizing all those lines, but it doesn’t matter if they aren’t acted with conviction, consistency, or compassion. If you wanna go, be uncomfortable on inflatable sofas and drink red wine from a coffee mug, by all means.
Running at Terrault Contemporary until February 14th [From Achilles: Their Facebook pages states they are “SOLD OUT, THANK YOU BALTIMORE.” You may be able to bribe the lady at the front door with a Natty Boh. Good luck with that.]
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