I remember living in the “80s”.
It was the time of Wham! and Careless Whisper.
It was the time of Broadway’s Les Miserables and Big River.
Sadly, it was also the time of Ronald Reagan and Jerry Fallwell and his “Moral Majority”. The reason I bring any of this up is the reminder of the ghastly “Moral Majority”. Why? Because in my circle of theater aficionados we had a saying – “The Moral Majority is neither”. Neither “moral” nor “majority.” What is the relevance? It is this; today I’m going to talk to a performance artist.
I must admit that I have no idea what performance art is supposed to be. But I do know this; performance art is neither. Neither “performance” nor “art.”
Earlier in the week I had the misfortune to be invited by a (no longer) friend to a “show” by noted “artist” Zenobia Lassiter. The “show” was called Pussy. I thought it might be about cats (I love my kitties, they are adorable), but I was horribly wrong. I talked to Lassiter after the “show.”
Kyrle Lendhoffer: I don’t know what to say…
Zenobia Lassiter: There is no correct response. When everything is deconstructed to its most base level, there is really nothing left to say.
KL: No, that’s not it. At times I thought I was going to be sick. You call that “theater”?
ZL: Of course I do. It’s the only kind of theater that matters. Think about what made you sick.
KL: All right, I’m thinking about it. Oh, god…
ZL: And it makes you sick again! My work has power! You will remember this forever! You can’t say the same about Rent.
KL: I thought Rent was very powerful. And I’ll remember it forever because it was INCREDIBLE. Because it had artistic integrity. Because it had a beginning, middle and end.
ZL: Those things are over rated. You long for the theater of your grandfather. I’m giving you the theater of your unborn great grandson.
We bickered for a moment about whether or not I’d have a great grandson and how that really mattered in the grand scheme of things.
KL: Zenobia, what the hell was your piece about?
ZL: You tell me, Mr. Lendhoffer. What did you think it was about?
KL: (thinking for a few moments) I think you were trying to explore your own sexuality and the tenuous relationship between man and woman. I think.
ZL: Wrong! Try again.
KL: Really? I mean, it must have had something to do with your sexuality in some way. There is no way that it wasn’t.
ZL: You’re not setting your mind free. Why would you say something like that?
KL: Well, that thing with the fish.
ZL: What about the fish?
KL: Madam, you put a fish into your vagina. How the hell does that not relate to your sexuality in some way?
ZL: Your mind is trapped. Ossified by the world. Let me help you out.
KL: Oh, please do.
ZL: My piece was a scathing indictment of our consumer culture. It’s about everything that is wrong with the media turning us into “sheeple”, making us follow every fad, making us buy every product, making us into automatons that will buy everything – from Coke Zero to the war in Iraq.
KL: Putting a fish in your vagina is an indictment of the war in Iraq? You have got to be kidding me!
ZL: Fool! The fish represented Big Media’s message! We were my vagina. You, me, everyone! The message was being crammed down our throat. Our collective throat was my vagina! It’s so obvious!
KL: Ms. Lassiter, I am NOT your vagina! I will never BE your vagina!
ZL: It’s too late, Mr. Lendhoffer. You are already my vagina.
KL: Can we stop using the “V” word? I’m getting sick again.
ZL: Your sickness is your subconscious mind actually getting my show. Deep down inside you know what I’m saying and you agree with it. Admit it.
KL: I will admit nothing of the sort. You have problems.
ZL: Oh, really…
KL: Yes! And I find it insulting that I had to watch you go through your own psychotherapy on stage. See a psychiatrist! Get some help! But in private! Theater goers do not want to see you solve your psychosis – especially when they have to pay for it!
ZL: Let’s hear you say that when I win another “Obie.”
KL: Good God…
With that I got up and ran from the room.
What is theater becoming? It’s bad enough when I have to sit through “monologists” like Spalding Gray (may he rest in peace) and Eric Bogosian. But now I have to watch a woman put a fish into her “V” and be impressed? It’s only impressive when it’s part of a show for sailors in Tijuana. Someday – someday in a more beautiful future I’ll be able to put this “show” out of my mind.
Performance art? Get real! Performance art is neither.