Wednesday, January 22, 2014

PuSh 2014: L.A. Party/An Evening with William Shatner Asterisk

In L.A. Party/An Evening with William Shatner Asterisk, on at SFU Woodward's Studio T through this Saturday as part of the PuSh Festival, New York's Phil Soltanoff presents two monologues that are as interesting for the ways in which they are delivered as for their content.

L.A. Party focuses on the adventures of a radical raw food vegan from New York who, after years spent purifying his body of toxins, falls off the wagon in spectacular fashion at his cousin Dave's 30th birthday party in the City of Angels (and the reversal of the usual bi-coastal stereotypes is just one of the work's many delicious ironies). One beer leads to another, and then to some weed, and then some shrooms, and finally two or three bumps of coke. Before we know it our narrator, now a very long way from his former chemically-free self, and urged on by his dudest-of-dudes cousin, is giving himself over to orgiastic abandon at a warehouse rave that culminates in a virtuosic display of multi-lingual logorrhea by Soltanoff at the mike.

That mike sits downstage right, with Soltanoff seated (his back to the audience) at a music stand filled with a sheaf of pages. As he reads from these pages, a downstage left video camera films the face of one of Soltanoff's male collaborators lying on the floor underneath it; this face, which is lip-synching along to the monologue, is then projected onto the masked face--and occasionally the stomach--of another female collaborator seated upstage centre, who is also lip-synching along to the monologue. It's a stunning amalgam of embodied and technological precision that parallels the hallucinogenic out-of-body journey our narrator is on.

Following a brief intermission, the audience returns to the theatre to find three video screens showing static. The left and right screens are also physically static. But the middle monitor is on wheels. The woman who operated the camera in L.A. Party, now dressed all in black, takes a seat upstage and the lights dim. What follows is a video essay on art and science (how they are different, who can do them, why they are part of what makes us human, and what each has to say about the future) comprised of thousands of split-second clips of William Shatner as Captain Kirk from the original Star Trek series. As these clips are displayed on the central, moveable monitor, accompanying text appears on the left- and right-side panels. Our black-clad supernumerary moves the central monitor backwards and forwards, diagonally to the right and left, and so on, adding an accompanying choreographic score to the sound- and image-bites, and at times also illustrating some of Shatner/Kirk's more arcane points.

Again, it's another virtuosic feat of audio and visual synching and one marvels at the labour that must have gone into the creation of the work. It's certainly exhausting to watch, but in a way that rewards the close attention the piece demands, our synapses fired not just by the many incongruously humorous images of Kirk and the Enterprise crew being thrown at us, but also by the very persuasive philosophical treatise built out of them.


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