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Theatre Journal 56.2 (2004) 314-316
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There are two new young companies worthy of attention. Atlanta's The Out of Hand Theatre and New York's Quinnopolis, NY are devising detailed, disciplined, and highly physical pieces in which each moment is crafted with precision. In [End Page 314] May 2003 the Out of Hand Theatre produced Live Nude Bouffons at Seven Stages under the direction of Adam Fristoe and in August 2003 Quinnopolis, NY produced Quinnopolis vs. Hamlet at the Church of St. Veronica under the direction of David Dalton.
Live Nude Bouffons incorporates the audience into an irreverent mix of sacred and mundane rituals as the production implicitly critiques the moral and patriotic rhetoric increasingly common in the U.S. The buffoons (spelled "bouffons" in the title and publicity) are grotesque and misshapen approximations of human beings. From their first entrance the buffoons fascinate and repel. At the show's start the audience hears a distant rhythmic sound, at once musical and grotesque, that vibrates in the wings. This "monkey-chant" grows closer until it becomes vaguely alarming and yet also intriguing. In their flesh-colored unitards, the supposedly nude actors appear covered in sores and missing limbs, as if these bodies never quite achieved complete human form. The company playing the buffoons moves almost as if the several actors were one entity. Each individual buffoon is a misshapen lump and all together they make a semihuman mass that both threatens and feels threatened. For much of the performance they remain in close proximity to one another. When one or more of them breaks loose from the group, they become increasingly anxious until united once again in a lump of many-limbed humanity.
The show is built around familiar ceremonies and rituals juxtaposed with bizarre violence. The solemn distribution of mouthwash and thin mint strips alludes to the rite of communion in a Christian church. The mouthwash is contained in a tank sprayer that is used to threaten the audience with a stream of liquid. There are two beauty contests and a battle. The winner of one of the beauty contests gets to marry the happiest buffoon and since she is the happiest, she marries herself. During a recitation of The Pledge of Allegiance, the other winner is killed by a ball which drops inexplicably from the flies like a bomb or a bolt from the blue. The audience is blamed for the death and is attacked with soft clubs and rubber balls. There is also a machine that operates a little like a Gatling gun and fires streams of toilet paper at the audience. The performance is vaguely reminiscent of Richard Foreman's work at the Ontological-Hysteric Theatre. This show, however, has less visual clutter than Foreman's work and regularly breaks down the separation of audience and performer.
The audience is encouraged to defend itself from the buffoons and is consequently drawn into a chaotic melee. Before the show the audience is provided with soft rubber balls and clubs and plastic sheets for protection. The audience can also pick up spent projectiles launched at it and direct them back at the buffoons. There is a lively exchange of fire between audience and buffoons in the dark theatre. There are cries and alarms but no way of telling whether a hit is from friendly or hostile fire. The combatants can only pick up the spent ball, bat, or toilet paper and hurl it into the darkness with the hope that the enemy is in that direction. Finally, the audience succeeds in killing all of the buffoons except one who resurrects the rest and the show ends. At other points in the performance, the buffoons repeatedly threaten to spit or squirt liquids toward the house as the audience members raise the plastic sheets defensively. The threats, however, are never carried out...