You’ve probably heard this said of zoos: When you think you’re watching the animals, they are also watching you. Watching performance artists can be like that, too—particularly, watching Adrienne Truscott.
In her one-woman show A One Trick Pony, Truscott—who starts off dressed as a bare-buttocked horse and proceeds to admit one of her performance goals is to be present “like a dog”—is certainly the sort of animal who doesn’t mind putting her watchers as well as herself on the spot.
The U.S. premiere of Pony, presented by Boom Arts, was part of Truscott’s gradual and voluntary comedown following a meteoric rise to comedy fame—an odd detour, she admits, for an already seasoned performance artist. Her 2013 creation Asking For It, “a rape about comedy” in which she played a pantsless comedian character telling rape jokes, and won some performing arts prizes before vaulting from fringe festivals onto mainstream comedy stages—pantsless, no less. There, she got a mixed reception, earning raves from the likes of Chris Rock and The Guardian, but balking under a new level of public scrutiny (the kind comedians, not performance artists, typically get) and often feeling the need to defend her performance choices—including showing her “much maligned vagina.”
One Trick Pony is Truscott’s self-confessed method of processing feedback from her last show, while getting back in touch with her performance artist side. In that spirit, she splits the difference between the full monty and fully dressed by hanging a dress, loincloth-like, over just her front half. She also splits her time between standup mode—telling jokes into a mic and swigging a beer, and performance art mode—lying prostrate on the floor while self-referential subtitles play behind her on a screen, for instance.
Actually, considering how fervently modern comedians have learned to “love the bomb,” you could argue that indulging one’s obtuse impulses and basking in the audience’s discomfort is a comedy technique, too. Which brings us to Pony‘s secondary theme: an homage to comedy’s trickster god Andy Kaufman, of whom Truscott asserts, “Andy K**fman is a feminist performance artist and I’m a comedian.”
To say exactly how Truscott honors Kaufman would be giving away too many of her tricks, which are better experienced than described, anyway. In fact, perhaps that—being better to experience than to describe—is the truest hallmark of Truscott’s work. Her jokes, if quoted, would be just okay. Her onstage antics are, in premise and execution, mostly silly. Like Kaufman, she’s fond of feigning that she’s out of material, then busting into a clearly masterminded bit. And yet, even when she’s stalling between surprises, she cultivates a compelling presence and holds her audience in playful suspense, hanging on her every quip and move. As a performer, she really is much more than the sum of (ahem) her parts.
Mischievously, at points during the show, Truscott delights in sharing quotes like the ones above from her prior reviews, projecting them on a screen and sometimes also reading them aloud. It’s both a self-deprecation and a dare to future critics as she notes, “You can get over a rape, but a bad review will haunt you forever.” For her Portland appearances, she included a local callout: a quote from Leapin’ Louie Lichtenstein—aka Portland’s Cowboy Clown—that endorsed Pony but added that it wasn’t as good as Asking For It. Unfazed, Truscott compares her newer show to a baby: “Once it’s out, you keep nurturing it and it gets bigger and stronger until everyone likes it, right?”
Well, probably not everyone—but certainly many more people than would initially assume they’d enjoy bottomless solo performance art. And if you can only pick one, winning over your skeptics with sheer grit is a pretty good trick.
**I’m guessing the two asterisks Truscott uses in print are for legal reasons?