It’s a truly American creation. Grab an inspiration here, a pulpy reference there, plug in a badly sung song, a dance or something resembling one, some sexy violence and lots of lights and screens (way more screens of course) – and you got a play. But don’t forget the most important thing – even if you’re actually trying to say something about the world make sure to bury it deep under layers of irreverent hollowness. It is Art after all. This is the cutting edge of American theater. And Radiohole is at its forefront. Whatever, Heaven Allows is a 90 minute multi-media art installation about Americana. It draws on Milton’s Paradise Lost, and on Douglass Sirk’s 1955 film All That Heaven Allows. The five performers (all interesting, but none attack the material with as much punch as Eric Dyer) lead the audience from one type of rush to the next, with nothing but the life of the performance itself at stake. This is a performance about performance, and its main contribution is in its exploration of performance. One might call that in itself a reflection of society, which of course it is, but this show’s meta-nature overpowers its statement. Just like America!
Here’s another American experience for you – mid-way through the show, just as I was losing interest in the extravagant action on the stage, an aging man sitting next to my friend began fondling himself, occasionally elbowing my friend in the process. I’m only relating this experience because my first thought was that perhaps it was part of the play. Anything could happen, it seemed. The lights had already come up on us spectators once or twice, and I wouldn’t have been surprised to find an actor or two join our side with the various colored globs of food coloring they had just splattered all over their faces. A gently masturbating man making spectators feel uncomfortable could easily be another odd moment that goes along with the collective beer chug, the mopping of the floor and other eclectic images.
Would it have meant something if it were part of the play? Again, no, but clearly the play has succeeded in opening the playing field of what might happen in the theater.
What the piece does not do as successfully is to explain the reason for its existence. It tries. The last quarter of the play takes on a stronger narrative quality, detailing the love affair between a mother and her gardener, and its disapproval by her children. We see images of classic domesticity, and watch the American dream trashed and belittled. While it is gratifying to see the troupe attempt some social commentary, it comes too late and so is lost in the sea of whimsicality that comprises the first three quarters of the play.
Nonetheless Whatever, Heaven Allows stays with you, making you wonder about the nature of art today, and what that says about the world we live in.