performance art

This filly doesn’t flinch

After the runaway success of 'Asking for It,' Adrienne Truscott's 'One Trick Pony' is a return to her performance-artist roots.

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.

Adrienne Truscott – One Trick Pony

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.”

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Venus and Adonis: a minimalist masterpiece

Can you appreciate acting for its own sake? Attending this play is a good way to check.

I’ve been here before.

Yes, this time last year—almost to the day—I visited Shaking The Tree Theatre to watch Matthew Kerrigan perform (wonderfully) in another minimally staged show, Dario Fo’s The Dissenter’s Handbook. Among the few audience members, I recall a middle-aged couple each (despite obviously knowing better) texting incessantly during the show, then leaving at intermission. Which left me wondering: Why had they even come?

Rebecca Ridenour as Venus and Matthew Kerrigan as Adonis. Photo: Gary Norman.

Kerrigan had just been featured in Artslandia’s “The Lead,” effectively celebritizing him as one of the city’s best actors, and I had a sneaking suspicion that this cashmere-casual couple’s presence at the play had something to do with that. Like foodies who’d order the city’s best duck confit then proclaim it too greasy, these people had tracked down one of Portland’s best actors only to realize that the craft of acting, in and of itself, didn’t “do it” for them. To enjoy theater, they may have needed more appetizers. A kitchen-sink-realistic set, perhaps? A swing-dancing ensemble cast? Who knows? In any case, they needed to see something made out of something, not something magicked out of nothing, as Kerrigan was—and is again—prepared to do.

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Just art: a creative shot in the arm

Fertile Ground: Vertigo's vivid premiere of Rob Handel's "I Want To Destroy You" takes smart and funny aim at academia and the outer limits of art

Life’s not going especially well for Harold, a sort-of-famous artist who’s now teaching grad students at a richer-than-thou private college, and he really likes it, actually, but there are … problems. His ex-wife is out of the picture somewhere – California, it sounds like – and his teenage daughter, Micki, comes to visit, prodding him for more of a relationship than he seems willing to commit to. His roof’s got a bad leak, and he’s unfortunately seriously ticked off the roofer, Andy. He’s up for tenure, but his friend and mentor Bob is in a hospital, dying, and the school dean, a crafty-smooth politico named Stephanie (everyone’s on a chummy first-name basis around here, even when they’re decidedly not chums), seems strangely unsympathetic: downright threatening, you might say. Then there’s Mark, the weirdo grad student, who comes to class to give a presentation on a conceptual piece, and in the process starts waving a handgun around. Which very much freaks out the other students, earnest Ilich and leafy Leaf, and throws a serious scare into Harold, which is both completely understandable and a tad ironic, because, after all, the work that made Harold famous and a prize catch for the richer-than-thou college in the first place was the performance piece where he had himself shot. With a rifle. What goes around, as they say, comes around. And on the other end of things, it looks scary.

Monkey see, monkey do: Orr and Epstein as student and teacher. Photo: Gary Norman

Monkey see, monkey do: Orr and Epstein as student and teacher. Photo: Gary Norman

So goes Theatre Vertigo’s I Want To Destroy You, the premiere production of a play by Rob Handel that is smart and funny and argumentative in a very good way and a little sprawling and by turns deeply satiric and emotionally telling, and all in all a fascinating, compellingly turned show. It’s also Vertigo’s entry in the Fertile Ground festival of new works, and to understand it deeply it’s good to know some of the background that Handel, who is head of the dramatic writing program at Carnegie Mellon University and so knows some of this material intimately, uses. Which means, first of all, knowing that harried Harold is a stand-in for, or at least inspired by, a guy named Chris Burden.

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And that creates something of a conundrum for me, because I’ve spent decades purposely averting my attention from Burden. I ignore him the way some people pointedly ignore Justin Bieber or Donald Trump or Dinesh D’Sousa or Noam Chomsky or any member of the Kardashian clan, hoping against hope that they’ll just go away.

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Coffeeshop Chat with David Eckard

The sculptor/performance artist explains his TBA collab with Linda Austin, and his evolving approach to material creations.

Apparently, ArtsWatch editor Barry Johnson’s favorite coffeeshop is the new epicenter of Portland’s performance universe. There to meet Barry, I ran into THREE performers whose work I’ve reviewed: Philip Cuomo, Maureen Porter, and David Eckard—actor, actor, and sculptor/performance artist. Tempted as I was to hide behind a copy of the Mercury and have my coffee quietly, I introduced myself to the actors, and then the actors to a performance artist (an animal of their genus, if a species or two removed). Cuomo is about to direct “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead,” (a Peanuts cartoon sequel), and Porter’s most anticipated project is “Sweet and Sad” (part of Richard Nelson’s trilogy) with Third Rail. Watch this space for more about them as the theater season progresses, meanwhile…

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Eckard will appear at a First Thursday live talk show this evening to explain his imminent TBA piece, “Three Trick Pony.”  At the coffeeshop, he looked deceptively ordinary in a business-casual plaid button up and a beard—but we’ve already seen him nearly naked. In his video piece “Comet,” shown in April at the Museum of Contemporary Craft and viewable online, Eckard wears nothing but a loincloth and a metal harness set with shelves around his hips, over which he sifts a chalky substance (the sands of time?) while spouting original beat poetry in homage to bright-burning friends from his activist past. Not only a performance artist but also a sculptor, Eckard often crafts the structures he’ll inhabit while performing. By his own admission, it wasn’t always so. “When I first started sculpting, I had this exalted sense of ‘the object,’” he confesses, “and I didn’t want anyone touching or messing with my work. In my mind, there was performance, and there was sculpture, and they were completely separate entities.”

Over time, though, the parts began to fuse, as Eckard observed that performing with a given ‘objet’ imbued both him, and it, with new life. Much of the work we’ve seen from him in the last few years builds on this discovery, framing Eckard as almost a bionic man, performative abilities enhanced by his own creations. He used a giant yellow megaphone as a mouthpiece in 2004’s “Podium,” unfurled a one-man platform with winglike banners for 2011’s “Cardiff,” and transformed his body into the aforementioned pseudo-hourglass for “Comet.” Even when a sculpture piece is shown on its own, Eckard has found that his performance audience still associates his actions with the object. Hence “he did this with that” stories enrich the piece’s mythology and meaning even after its performative moment has passed.

Eckard’s natural next evolution? Letting someone else play with his toys. For TBA 2013 offering “Three Trick Pony,” previewed earlier this summer at Conduit’s Dance+, Eckard created props for modern dancer Linda Austin to use in whatever way she chooses—and he’s been surprised by a lot of her choices. “I’d make a piece, and I’d envision how it could be used, how it would bend—and then Linda would come up with a completely different movement.” For instance, what he thought of as a box, in her hands became a plow. “I’d go, ‘Oh wow, okay’ and take the thing back and reinforce the hinges.” Through this conversation of invention and reinvention, “Three Trick Pony” emerged as a choreographic sequence that’s performed three times. For each pass, Eckard’s objects are arranged to exert a different force on Austin’s movements. General themes that spring to mind as Austin grapples with objects larger than herself echo those Eckard has faced in “Comet”: aging and adjusting, the chaos of fate. But in this instance, as the dancer faces different kinetic challenges, she combines a consistent strategy with agile reactions in order to overcome.

Hear more about the  piece tonight at Din Din Supper Club, or catch it in action at PICA’s TBA.

Dancer Linda Austin confronts one of David Eckard's sculptural creations in "Three Trick Pony."

Dancer Linda Austin confronts one of David Eckard’s sculptural creations in “Three Trick Pony.”

 

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A. L. Adams also writes monthly column Art Walkin’  for  The Portland Mercury, and is  former arts editor of Portland Monthly Magazine.
Read more from Adams: Oregon ArtsWatch  | The Portland Mercury

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