Magickal Elixir

If you’ve ever felt as though you've seen it all in theater (or anywhere for that matter), you must experience a Radiohole show. The award-winning avant-garde performance troupe now channeling ANGER/NATION at the Kitchen, gives another balls-out (literally) presentation, inspired by the underground occult films of Kenneth Anger , as confronted by the hatchet-wielding temperance movement leader of early 20th century America, Carrie A. Nation. These opposing forces (with similarly manic energies) are further challenged with slopping pitchers of beer (with free mug-fulls proffered to thirsty audience members), a grinding psychedelic soundtrack, costumes slyly layered from Anger’s images or other eras, real or imagined (featuring serious hairpieces, horned or otherwise wigged-out, a medley of various uniforms either missing key parts or with an occasional “extra” appendage, intense make-up, smatterings of glitter), fog effects, evocative background video, popping air rifles, and smashing bottles, all of which create an exciting and arresting experience, both aurally and visually.

The set looks something like the cyberpunk ship in the film The Matrix if it had been transported to a cabaret basement in Weimar Republic Berlin and exploded on impact. A dozen or more mini video monitors jiggle off the ends of sweeping tentacle-like stalks, playing various clips, while a pair of cherub-esque performers, Radiohole co-founders Scott Halvorsen Gillette and Eric Dyer, alternately play music, verbally riff, sling back drinks and trippy pills, shoot each other, sometimes step behind twin plastic curtains to change costume (and/or scene), and generally torment the imposing figure of Carrie Nation by flaunting their Dionysian existence.

Don’t bother searching for a traditional narrative other than maybe Veni, Vidi, Vici (with Nation as the one ultimately conquered) and yes, the pastiche is made even more complete by a drunken, largely unintelligible sort of frat boy Julius Caesar, played jovially by Iver Findlay, the show’s video designer (along with So Yong Kim and Radiohole), who ran all the technical elements from a computerized command center on stage. (This was fed directly into the Kitchen’s excellent soundboard, to great thunderous effect.)

The beleaguered Ms. Nation, portrayed by Maggie Hoffman, also a co-founder of the company (and showing her real life five-month pregnant belly), is of course highly offended by the decadence of all the men-children, and she attempts to clobber their deviant behaviors as well as their alcohol bottles with her mighty hatchet. Not being able to divide or conquer, she eventually goes off into a transformation of her own (we watch her muted struggles via a live Moon-cam, projected behind the stage), and when she re-emerges, she embodies a kind of high priestess or Egyptian queen slithering right out of an Anger film like Lucifer Rising (1980), having fully gone over to the “other side.”

Hoffman’s monologues sound interestingly more campaign speechy than the basic preachy I probably expected. Nation’s famous quote, “Men are nicotine-soaked, beer-besmirched, whiskey-greased, red-eyed devils,” is certainly enacted viscerally, while she sounds almost cheerful in telling her gloomy story. (In real life, the Bible-thumping, Midwestern Nation lost her first husband to alcoholism during a time when abuse had apparently become rampant. With no legal controls on the alcohol content of whiskey – sometimes proving to be lethal – it was common for men to drink away entire paychecks at their local tavern, leaving no legal or financial recourse for their possibly starving, physically abused, and/or abandoned wives and children at home.)

So is Nation an early feminist, albeit a misguided one? Here she rebirths herself or becomes a gut renovation (so to speak) via this equally subversive landscape. Perhaps Nation just grows up over the ensuing century, becoming a “liberated” (read: objectified and lovin’ it) female, willing to expose herself and cavort along with the rest of us sinners. Maybe crazy times call for crazy measures in every generation, even as we seem to long for some kind of temperance.

A delightful coda features Gillette and Dyer discussing a performance, under the jarring full fluorescent house lights, while Hoffman and Findlay change back into street clothes and pack up to leave. Some audience members make a hasty exit at this point, but the deadpanned dialogue (supposedly taken verbatim from a John Cage interview circa 1982) was such an ideal tongue-in-cheek denouement to all of the previous punk rock action, I secretly hoped it would continue on until the very last die-hards eventually slunk out. I thought it was actually the funniest part, a fitting surrealist American Theater Wing breakdown complete with drifty pauses, the whole thing reminiscent of an old Gary Larson cartoon showing a couple splayed out in their living room with the caption: “The Arnolds feign death until the Wagners, sensing awkwardness, are compelled to leave.” So sit back, enjoy the rest of your beer (or Jesus juice), and savor the last drops of Radiohole’s Magickal elixir. Until they next conjure up something wonderful for us again.

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