Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Making a Mess

A Conflicted Viewer, on Forced Entertainment’s 20th Anniversary Show.

Bloody Mess resists a plot, and therefore the inevitable question of the audience that is trying to figure out their viewing experience: Where is this going? What does it mean? This audience is forced to respond to a show that challenges their preconceptions by openly resisting them. What do we expect from a play? What is our role in watching it? Nothing in this piece is clear; plot and structure have purposely been avoided, and we are left to deal with what is left behind. Those remnants, chaotic, fierce, and fast-paced, form a genuine experiment in focus. It veers unpredictably, as intended, and gears its general melee toward establishing a new dynamic for the audience to recognize (or not) as the modern mode of ingesting information. It is an exercise in defying definition.

From the start, the atmosphere is unsure: is this funny or serious? Well, the answer is both. Dark humor is rampant, and there are many ridiculous acts and images to respond to, but most times, the laughter fades into an awkward silence, as we the audience realizes what a fine line we walk between the hilarious and the grotesque. The process of negotiating that boundary is one we are not accustomed to in entertainment; in general, messages are packaged into neat and specific types, clearly understood and rather obvious. Their use of humor is unique because the comic is never confirmed or denied as explicitly comic. The vibe is serious, and yet the action proceeds as ridiculous.

Bloody Mess, hence it’s name, is all over the place. Action happens simultaneously, and distracts both audience focus and other performers onstage, who are trapped in an imaginary performance situation. Images collide with words and more images. They have fastened beauty and truth to humor and farce, ugliness to beauty, creating an undeniable tension. When one character pulls for a meaning, tries to communicate something he or she believes important, as with John’s storytelling attempts, it is difficult to watch. John fights through sound, movement and lights, to share something, some bit of himself, and that attempt is foiled and denied.

Onstage events subject the characters in the show to the same challenges as the viewers themselves. A sort of social contract has been identified by Etchells, and his actors onstage must acknowledge that link between one another, as well as finding it with the spectator. Within all of the clutter and cross-fire, there emerges an inconsistent but ever-present responsibility to deal with the audience, whether through passionate display, direct address, or otherwise. I was left feeling manipulated by the relationship, and indeed Etchells discussed that impulse in a post-show discussion. As with all of our modern communication, signals are crossed. Like late-night channel-surfing on a television, Bloody Mess serves to leave us conflicted, confused, and overwhelmed. It says something about our world and the messages we receive, as well as the messages we put out.

Bloody Mess is currently on tour in Europe and the USA.


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