Gob Squad’s Kitchen (You’ve Never Had It So Good)

Concept by Gob Squad
Featuring Sean Patton, Sharon Smith, Simon Will, Nina Tecklenburg and others
Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street
January 19, 2012 — February 5, 2012
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
January 25, 2012 (and “tweet-experienced” January 19, 2012)

(L-R) Female audience member, three Gob Squad members on screen and a fourth in front of middle screen, and male audience member. Image by Martha Wade Steketee as tweeted Janaury 19, 2012.

My exposure to the fine work of the Gob Squad‘s Andy Warhol-inspired creation, continuing at the Public Theater through February 5, happened in layers, over a week’s time, more processed than is typical for me when I review a piece of theatre.  It may be true that this experience begs to be written about in the moment and in the present tense — this stands deliciously in tension with audience member layers of experience, different levels of awareness of the source material, and at one of my performances the attendance (and post-show comments by) someone who had been the subject of one of Andy Warhol‘s films and who spent time at his Factory in the world evoked in this piece.  That woman who had been there in real-time gave this troupe her endorsement.  This woman who attended two performances at Public Theater, in real-time, is similarly positive.

I attended Kitchen (You’ve Never Had It So Good) by Berlin-based Gob Squad twice in the course of a week.  First, as a guest tweeter invited by the Public Theater’s Marketing Department (an experience I blog about here), and then as a rapt audience member.  In my two performances there were casting swaps (Sarah Thom yielded to Nina Techlenburg in the later performance) and role swaps (Simon Will played room greeter and initial on-screen narrator for both shows, and Sean Patten, Sarah Thom, Sharon Smith, and Nina Techlenburg played different initial positions in the two shows) and familiarity that led to my deeper appreciation of the combination of scripted sequences and improvised moments.

This experience could be over processed because, in a sense, it just is.  Audience members are led back stage to the film locations on stage, behind stage-wide screens, before we take our seats in the theatre, so we know how the rear-projected films will be created in real-time during each performance. Actors improvise around the “text” of a life and experience (Andy Warhol’s life at the Factory in the 1960s) and the filmed evidence he left behind of his artistic and observational experiments.  His multi-hour film Sleep is evoked on the audience left-hand screen soon to morph into Kiss, animated by one actor who is eventually joined by an audience volunteer.  A version of his Screen Test short films (and he created hundreds of them, some accessible as part of the Whitney Museum‘s Andy Warhol Film Project) is enacted in the screen at the right of the stage.  And in the middle screen the actors (and later audience members) sit around a kitchen, playing themselves among props they introduce as playing items from the 1965 film (e.g. the off-brand Corn Flakes will represent the product from Kellogg’s but the loaf of Wonder Bread will play itself — who knew the red, yellow, and blue balloon-wrapped white bread was still produced today?).  Other films are evoked, including Blow Job, portrayed in my two performances by a female then a male actor as in the Warhol original, featured as part of a MOMA exhibit not long ago.

Audience interaction, improvisation around a core sequence of adventures, head sets that deliver actor-character lines (for most sequences) to the willing audience participants on-screen.  Smart improvisers who know their material deeply and who will go with whatever the moments yield.  From my two experiences with this show, two different audience member reactions to the Kiss sequence illustrate some of the range of experiences possible.  In my case, both scenarios involved female audience members and female actors, two individuals in one screen, lying on a bed at an angle behind the screen.  In one case the female audience member said to cast member prodding for a kiss: “You can kiss me, but I can’t kiss you.”  In the second performance, the audience member verbally rebuffed any lip-lip action, but accepted a kiss on the cheek indicating “I adapt to a certain point, then I insist.”  What happens in the moment is the theatre of this production, and what happens is delectable.

© Martha Wade Steketee (January 30, 2012)

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