(Some sprawling thoughts, questionable tense usage, and spoiler-alerts for Adrienne Truscott’s THIS at the 2017 LALA Festival)
By Paige Collette
During the last weekend of July 2017, my long-lost / lately-found friend, former roommate / collaborator, and fellow LALA participant Jess Barbagallo confessed to me (and/or bragged?) that he no longer reads footnotes. For Jess, I think this makes good sense. He’s very well-read, already knows a lot, and quit the Facebook years ago, which is really just a slew of footnotes disguised as “status updates.”
For those of you who might be younger than us and/or spend more time reading Facebook than actual books, maybe you would’ve found footnotes for this blog-post to be helpful. And I’d like to say that in the spirit of generosity, they’re here for you.
But: in what I’d like to believe was an even more magnanimous moment, I decided against footnotes because they’re essentially just analog hyperlinks – or glorified hyperlinks? Anyway, if there’s anything you want to learn more about, just remember: Google Rules Everything Around Me (G.R.E.A.M.)
Before watching Adrienne Truscott’s THIS at LALA Festival, I think I’d seen her perform once before. It must’ve been in 2006 when I was living in Brooklyn as a fairly recent graduate of NYU’s Experimental Theater Wing. Some former classmates who were a couple years older than me had started a performance series called CATCH, and back in 2005, I was part of CATCH XI. For the next few years I performed at several other CATCHes in various capacities, and CATCH is still going strong today. In fact, as of this writing, the most recent CATCH (CATCH 74) was produced during the same month as the inaugural LALA Festival.
This is all to say that Adrienne Truscott has performed at CATCH many times–twice in 2006 (and I think I saw the first of these, the day before I turned 24), once in 2010 (after I’d already moved to Minneapolis), and once in 2012, 2015, and 2016.
In 2014, I heard about her one-woman show “ADRIENNE TRUSCOTT’S ASKING FOR IT: A ONE-LADY RAPE ABOUT COMEDY STARRING HER PUSSY AND LITTLE ELSE!” I love that the apostrophe in this title can be interpreted as a truncation for “is,” – “Adrienne Truscott IS asking for it” or as the possessive–“ASKING FOR IT” is a show that belongs to Adrienne Truscott.
Anyway, Adrienne was performing this show at one of my nearest-and-dearest venues in Minneapolis, the Bryant Lake Bowl. But in 2014, the Bryant Lake Bowl was actually not-so-near to me because my husband Billy Luetzen and I were pacing ourselves through a two-year stint in the small town of Ray, North Dakota (population 600, 10 hours west of the Twin Cities). But: I’d heard that the show was so brilliant and hilarious, so unsettling and brave. So even though I couldn’t go, I asked my friend Andi to go and tell me how it was.
Fast-forward to LALA Festival 2017, where I get to watch Adrienne Truscott’s show THIS (for freesies!) and write a blog post about it however the hell I want, so here we are.
At the beginning of THIS, Adrienne clarifies that she’s only doing this show for the money. The audience seems to take this as a joke because LALA is a fledgling festival, right? We can’t imagine that she’s being paid huge gobs of money for THIS. But is she or isn’t she? It would seem that she’s performing at the LALA Festival primarily for the LALA-love, and not the ma-ma-moola. (“Cash-ola, but no one uses that word anymore,” she says later in the show.) But who can really say? With this introduction, she casts herself as an unreliable narrator from the get-go. Is she telling the truth right now? What about now? And which version?
Early on, Adrienne sets up four of those block letters lined with light-bulbs to spell out T-H-I-S. These letter-lights are the kind that people would display at a wedding to spell out the word L-O-V-E. Or, to spell out the word E-A-T in a family’s suburban kitchen where they fiercely embrace the shabby chic aesthetic as an irreversible life choice.
With the use of these light bulbs, I wonder if Adrienne is nodding to one of my very favorite artists Felix Gonzalez-Torres – or the idea of energy crisis in general. When it comes to Félix Gonzàlez-Torrez, Wikipedia is kind enough to note: “For the Paraguayan footballer (soccer player) see, Felix Ricardo Torres. For the American/Puerto Rico baseball player, see Fèlix Torres.” Anyway, Fèlix Gonzàlez-Torres is one of my all-time favorite artists. Get it? All-TIME favorite?? Please refer to his piece “Perfect Lovers” (two clocks ticking side by side) to fully groan at my MoMA dad-joke pun. Light bulbs, clocks, and candy – I do truly love his art.
The rest of the THIS set is simply fabulous. Two panels of floor-to-ceiling fringe flank each side of the stage. One is positioned a bit further upstage than the other, and the fringe has a subtle gold shimmer to it. It makes me think of Goldilocks, Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, flapper burlesque costumes, Stevie Nicks, string theory, stringed instruments, G-strings, and deconstructed volleyball nets.
I’ve never been in a jazz era opium den, but I feel like I’m in some sort of avant-garde Ikea that’s trying to provide me with a barebones approximation of what it might have been like.
Before the show even starts, this fringy set dressing seems to whisper physical promises of narrative threads, story-weaving, yarn-spinning, and ultimately the often laborious process of unraveling.
Finally, I love that the set was made of fringe because Adrienne rose to fame and notoriety on the Edinburg Fringe Festival circuit, and as Cyndi Lauper sings, girls just wanna have puns. She also sings, “Time After Time.” See again: “Perfect Lovers” by Fèlix Gonzàlez-Torres.
Later in the show, Adrienne will sport a sort-of dress made from this same fringy material. The outfit is bulbous and awkward, but also somehow slinky and impractically gorgeous. She takes on the physical aspects of the set because we’re all just products of our environments, right? But it’s not necessarily an easy fit. She struggles with the garment consistently, hulking it around, shifting her weight to keep the sculptural garment on her body. It’s as if Naomi Wolf’s “Beauty Myth” has been condensed into a single dress.
But to start the show, Adrienne is dressed in some neutral pants and a shirt, and she begins with some “feminist stand-up comedy.” I later learn that these jokes were lifted right from her show ASKING FOR IT. (At long last, I get to see a part of this show after all!) My favorite quip: “Comedy and abortion actually have a lot in common. Because timing is everything.”
In another section of the show, a grand piano appears stage-left. We see that it’s constructed almost entirely out of black painted cardboard and what I later learn is gorilla tape. I also learn that Adrienne wanted the piano destroyed after the show because she didn’t want anyone else to use it, and I respect that. As the Beastie Boys so eloquently put it: You gotta fight–for your right–to make-low-budget-solo-performance-in-an-unfamiliar-town.
Adrienne plays this grand piano with great flair. (Did she even know that Billy Joel was playing a huge concert in the Twin Cities the same weekend?) Her piano performance turns out to be that good-clean-fun theater trick of prerecorded music and her hidden hands bouncing around to give the impression that she’s actually tickling the ivories. But she’s not! And for some reason (maybe her charming performance quality?) it is very satisfying to watch. As she “plays” and playacts, she tells the story of her uncle and his wife.
They were a couple who wrote songs but never performed them live because they were too shy. They sold their songs to make a living, and Adrienne seems to be very taken with their story as two working artists. She says that she only spoke to her uncle once, later in his life. He was living in an asylum, and he told her a dirty joke over the phone.
Adrienne says that his wife died violently at the hands of the mob, and then she shows a photo of this aunt, projected on the back screen. She says something to the effect of, “This might not actually be a photo of her. It might just be a photo that I found here in the theater.” The only thing reliable about this narrator is her unreliability. And don’t you forget it, buster!
Now Adrienne reveals her hands from behind the grand piano, and we see that she’s wearing these bizarro-campy elbow-length rubber-looking horse-hoof opera-gloves. Wait. Is THIS a Chuck Mee play? Is THIS The Godfather? She did mention the mob, right? But it doesn’t really make sense and doesn’t need to. It’s just a great sight gag – hilarious and highly effective.
I think the next section of the show is that part where she starts talking about Lyme disease. Nature fights back. I think this section starts with images of Adrienne projected on a back screen in what looks to be some sort of lite BDSM get-up. She’s dressed like a leather lassie, but she’s standing on what looks to be a little island, surrounded by weeds and reeds. Man vs. nature, and it looks like a breeding ground for tick bites for sure.
She wades through the audience (Have we now become the weeds and reeds?) as she spouts off about Lyme disease and makes her way to the theater’s sound booth. Oh yes, she’s still wearing the weird horse-hoof gloves, and now she’s got them pressed against the clear glass wall of the sound booth. It’s very strange, very funny, and an excellent way to use every inch of the theater space. Am I supposed to read more deeply into this? Horse hooves, JELLO, Pudding Pops, Cosby? Probably not.
In another section of the show, Adrienne talks about living alone as a high school student. Her mom *thought* she was living with a young, adult couple and their infant baby. Which was the original plan. But then the couple and the baby took off. And Adrienne was alone. But she didn’t want her mom to know she was alone. So if her mom was coming for a visit, Adrienne would stage the house, like some sort of Whitney Biennial installation made to look as though there was actually a couple and baby in residence. Adrienne says that she bought baby clothes and smoked cigarettes half-way down to stage them in an ashtray, and her mother was none-the-wiser. I think of living alone coupled with the idea of creating solo work. A home of one’s own. It seems to me that they’re related.
But Adrienne explained that the reason she lived alone is because she was an athlete, and she wanted to finish out the year playing with her high school sports team. It makes me think about how many athletes actually do go into art and performance.
Choreographer Emily Johnson defined herself as a basketball player for many years. Good ol’ boy Matthew Barney played football in the fertile crescent of the sport itself (for our purposes: Texas).
But more immediately I think of the famous athletes who bridged into film careers – O.J. Simpson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who I hear is getting into politics–just like athlete-turned-movie-mogul Arnold Schwartzenegger.
Oh yeah, and speaking of public speaking, Adrienne also gave a talk at Fresh Oysters about criticism and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Can I just say how much I love the name of this space? Fresh Oysters–just like contemporary performance itself–an acquired taste that you consume, that you pry open to investigate, that can even cause a little blood.
Adrienne spoke about the appeal and “easy access of Edinburgh Fringe versus waiting around for more permission.” I’m thinking “permission” is shorthand for a New York venue offering to produce her work.
She also noted the challenges of Fringe–“going directly from the airport to the venue with no downtime, teching with someone who just teched five different shows before yours.”
When it comes to criticism, Adrienne said that THIS marked the first time that she was working with a director, and that in an of itself invited a sort of one-on-one criticism. But when it comes to critics who write about performance, she hopes that they: “enter a show with an openness to what they’re seeing and help to cultivate an audience that would like the piece but doesn’t know it yet, and to draw connections to other artists who are similar, past artists. A critic’s job is to write what you saw and to own what you fail to see. That’s the rule unless it’s not and you don’t follow it and it’s not the rule anymore.”
I love this idea of not breaking the law, but annihilating it completely.
Which brings us to THIS’s homage to Carolee Schneeman’s “Interior Scroll.”
Adrienne is stripped down and delivers some text about how some people have questioned the complications that arise when she uses her naked female body onstage to challenge and explore ideas of power and control. Does it undermine feminism? “Oh gee!” she quips with faux naivete. “I never thought of that!”
I first learned about Carolee Schneemann’s “Interior Scroll” when I was a blossoming college feminist and (surprise!) I thought it was super-evocative. The idea of a woman stuffing the words of her critics into her vagina and then purging her body of the unnecessary lining that would no longer serve her was pretty damn brilliant to 19 year-old me–and still is.
The only other time I saw a live riff on “Interior Scroll” was when I curated and performed in an evening called #1 FEMALE at University Settlement in New York in 2009. The dazzling and sharp-as-a-tack performer Erin Markey pulled a scroll from her body, but the scroll looked more like an embellished stage prop scroll from a kids’ production of Cinderella.
Then she cleared her throat, dropped open the scroll, and sang the entirety of “We Represent the Lollipop Guild.” That’s right, clueless critics. You can suck it. Of course, #hashtag not-all-critics are clueless. But some of you are. And so, there are these dialogues that ebb and flow and web and grow. I wonder if anyone’s ever done a version of “Interior Scroll” that riffs on the experience of scrolling down page of Facebook comments. Did Adrienne mention something about it in THIS? To the blossoming college feminists of today, get on it!
On the promotional posters for THIS, Adrienne is decked out in a dress that seems to be made of out wigs. And then there’s a black crow. I think of The Beatles’ “Blackbird” and the dress makes me think of “Martha, My Dear,” a song about Paul McCartney’s sheepdog, Martha. The crow looks cool, but I’m just not sure how he made it into the photo shoot. It’s like there were emails back and forth about what Adrienne would wear for the photo shoot–“yeah, wear the dress-made-out-of-hair and a crown.” But then the ghost of Edgar Allen Poe shivered into someone’s typing fingers, and they left off the “n.” So one happy accident later, the crow flies into the photo shoot. And/or maybe another nod to Stevie Nicks.
In the actual performance of THIS, there’s a drone-ish, remote-controlled bird that dive bombs and buzzes around the audience, lit up with a red light. It’s kind of like a kid’s light-up shoe, possessed by the spirit of Pixar, and all in fast motion. It’s very freaky. Man vs. nature AND technology. You guys, the robots will watch every Alfred Hitchcock film and peck us all to death. But then, the bird is gone. So in my mind, there’s a flash of the Beatles again with “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” and a quick thought of Haruki Murakami. But the danger has passed, and we’re on to the next thing.
I think it’s right about now that Adrienne starts talking of a different sort of danger. She talks about living at the beach for a summer with a family she was babysitting for. One day she takes the toddler down to the shoreline, and an unknown man starts watching her and taking pictures of her. Metaphorically she dips her toe in and starts to pose. She keeps calling the toddler she’s watching “my little charge”–which confused me for a second because I interpreted “charge” as “thrill” like her own sense of power from titillating this unknown man with the camera. But from her young point of view, it’s more innocent than that. As a viewer in the audience, I feel the charge of potential risk, a slippery sense of agency that could be lost in an instant. I think of how cameras were different back then. The man wasn’t using a phone to take pictures. He was using a film camera. He would never email her the pictures–because email didn’t exist. So Adrienne would never see what he saw, and it would probably be several days before he would see the pictures himself. We get the feeling that there’s more to the story than Adrienne shares. Is it even a real story? I think the final detail she shares is that her two-piece swimsuit was mint green. In our current day and age, this continues to be a wildly popular color. You could probably call it HGTV green. So if you had any questions about whether or not this tale of little charges is rich or relevant today–why yes, yes it is, and it’s double-mint flavor fresh green.
Which brings us to an ice cream parlor, the end of the show, and a bawdy joke about queer desire, preferred pronouns, and the confusion of dudes. Is this a callback to the dirty joke her crazy songwriting uncle told her over the phone? Who knows! There’s no time! The show is coming to an end, slipping through our fingers like grains of golden sand and amber waves of so-long-farewell. Now she’s smoking a cigarette. Is she a teenager? Is her mom coming to visit? Is she working to populate a staged ashtray?
Adrienne speaks louder and faster – there’s a powerful fan that blows whipping wind right into her face, and I happen to know that this is the end of THIS because I saw the last few moments of the show the night before through the clear glass door of the Red Eye Theater while I was waiting to get into the space to host a late-night cabaret after Adrienne’s show. (I say late-night, but ok it was 9pm and yes, we are older than ever.)
One of Adrienne’s final revelations is that THIS whole performance has actually been a summer movie blockbuster. Cue an impressive fiery explosion projected on the back screen! It’s the finale of the show! An onslaught or surprises til the end.
There looks to be soft plastic and paper trash flying up at Adrienne from the momentum of the fan. She reminds me of an exotic animal stranded on a polluted beach. Here she is, rare and precious, surviving against the odds, Adrienne Truscott. But she also reminds you that she’s just a person. Filled with jokes. And at the same time, none of it is so simple. I believe the last words of her show were, “A guy walks into a bar. It’s my dad.” I just hope his pun-game is strong.
In conclusion, I guess I’ll just say:
Dear Adrienne Truscott, thank you for your art and all your hard work.
Did you listen to the Strokes’ album Is This It while you made THIS piece?
How about Deana Carter’s Did I Shave My Legs For This?
Regardless, I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Paige Collette is a writer and performer who grew up in Dallas, Texas, and moved to Minneapolis in 2010. Before that, she lived in New York for 10 years where she earned her BFA from the Experimental Theater Wing at NYU’s Tisch. From 2013-2015, Paige and her husband Billy Luetzen lived 10 hours west of Minneapolis in Ray, North Dakota (population 600) where they coached high school speech and drama together and listened to records in their tiny apartment.
Photo Credit: Carmine Covelli | Allison Michael Orenstein