By Jessie Bear; Conceived and Directed by Erin Mee
Produced by This Is Not A Theatre Company
Off Off Broadway, New Play
Runs through 5.28.15
Judson Church, 55 Washington Square South
by Brett Aresco on 5.1.15
A scene from Readymade Cabaret.
BOTTOM LINE: A brief Dadaist meditation on fate, chance, and the meaninglessness of life.
To get a sense of This Is Not A Theatre Company's Readymade Cabaret, print out this review, cut out each individual word, put them all in a bag, shake gently, then take them out one after another copying them down in order. These instructions, paraphrased from a sign titled "tO mAke a DaDaist pOEM" at the entrance to the show's Judson Church performance space, represent perhaps the most appropriate way to understand this tangled, postmodernist evening of theatre.
Readymade Cabaret is more art installation than play. It takes place in a well-lit room filled with surrealist art. While much of the art is made by members of the company, the audience is encourage to create some as well, whether by creating Rorschach tests or collectively writing a Dadaist poem. While some of the pieces are for show, others factor into the various vignettes that make up the evening's performance. Said vignettes are chosen from a list of titles ranging from "Lab Rats" to "Amy Doesn't Believe In Fate," and their order is chosen by audience dice roll. Members of the audience, clearly visible to each other and to the performers, move around as necessary to accommodate each passing scene. There is a sense that the spectators cannot get too comfortable, as the theatrical ground, much like the world itself, is constantly shifting under their feet.
Billed as an homage to French Dadaist artist Marcel Duchamp's "readymades," pieces of art made by taking ordinary objects and changing the viewer's perspective on them, Readymade Cabaret takes elements of everyday life, from first dates to Lean Cuisine, and transforms them into ruminations on luck and destiny. One seemingly innocent scene in which three friends lie on a patch of grass becomes a hypothetical discussion about the fate of the Earth when the sun burns out. Another depicts a date during which one party fears that the other will only answer his questions in a way she has been conditioned to do so, leading either to a breakup or marriage. Though different in setting, structure, and content, each vignette touches on one or more of the show's major themes of fate, happiness, and chaos.
Though Readymade Cabaret deals seriously with the larger questions of human existence, it is not above having a little fun. Perhaps the best parts of the evening are the "Tweet Dances," one-minute, fully improvised dance pieces based on tweets, performed by the incomparable Kyla Ernst-Alper.
Though not wholly unique (several scenes merely replicate the work of surrealist artists, and the vignette structure owes much to the NY Neo-Futurists' long-running signature show Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind), Readymade Cabaret is an ambitious undertaking. It succeeds in creating an entertaining and unpredictable atmosphere while packing countless ideas into 60 minutes. Like all great Dadaist art, it is not meant to be understood, or even appreciated; it is just meant to exist. And though it may not be the most traditional (or traditionally absurdist) piece of theatre around, it is a worthwhile contribution to the downtown theatre scene.
(Readymade Cabaret plays at Judson Church, 55 Washington Square South, through May 28, 2015. Performances dates and times vary. Tickets are $25 and are available at artful.ly.)