Review: A Surrealist’s Guantanamo Bay. ‘I’m Bleeding All Over the Place’ at LaMama.
Thomas Burns Scully
- OnStage New York Critic
It’s refreshing to see theatre that doesn’t hold the audience’s hand all the way through. But, just as a glass of water after a long walk in the desert is preferable to a glass of urine after same… there’s refreshing and there’s refreshing. Such is the situation with ‘I’m Bleeding All Over the Place’ at LaMama. I am willing to applaud a production wholeheartedly for trying something different, for choosing a deliberately strange aesthetic and committing to it. However, I can’t say I enjoyed ‘I’m Bleeding All Over the Place’. Despite it’s interesting promenade layout and occasionally striking visuals, the distilled essence of the play would appear to be fifteen or so repeated sentences and a small pool of vapidity.
‘Bleeding’ begins in the theatre lobby at LaMama. An actor comes out and starts speaking to the audience in the guise of the playwright, Brooke O’Harra. She contemplates various problems in her life, tiffs in her relationship with her girlfriend, and her constant feeling that she wants to punch people in the face. The audience are then led by the cast on an interactive tour, where they are presented with people sitting on a sofa, actors talking directly to audience members sitting on overturned tubs, a girl cycling in circles for a seeming eternity, people having arguments in unison, a girl being showered in blood, and finally an overlong musical number. There is no story, beyond a vague feeling and the self-important ramblings of actors speaking in the playwright’s voice. Like Paris Hilton, the show is obnoxious and full of issues.
My greatest gripe with the piece is the playwright’s voice. Patronizing is the only way to describe it. Whilst initially interesting and funny, as the show progresses one gets the distinct sense that the playwright is convinced she’s blowing your mind. And she’s not. O’Harra draws constant attention to fact that she is speaking to you through the actors, as if a mind-controlling Yeerk twisting people to do her bidding. Interesting idea… but she never brings it any further than that. She dwells on the one note like a morse code dispatcher. The text never evolves or completely draws you in, and she never says anything truly profound in the world she creates.
Granted, the text isn’t helped by the actors’ delivery. The lines sound highly rehearsed, and yet the circumstances of the show seem to demand a fully naturalistic delivery, even an improvisational feel. Whether the actors are bad, or whether they’ve been directed in to a corner is difficult to tell, but the manner of speech was incredibly distracting to me. It completely undermined one section of the piece, in which actors end up isolated with audience members in shower cubicles. The actors talk directly to the audience and contemplate various aspects of the show, reminding them that everything they’re saying is scripted, but still discussing events in immediacy. That sequence would have been chilling if the line delivery had felt authentic, but it was as natural as a conversation with a telemarketing robot. It felt like a ninth grade drama class.
There were a couple of redeeming moments in ‘Bleeding’. A sequence in which an actress is showered by blood-packs is creepy as all hell, and in the initial segment of the play a mannequin is used to represent the playwright’s girlfriend. Comedy comes out of that quite naturally. But so much of the play, despite it’s overbearing efforts to be daring, feels incredibly tame. It’s deliberately overlong segments of repetition might work in an art-installation setting, where the watcher can leave at will, but trapping an audience with them felt more like torture than entertainment. In fact that may have been the point of the show. It’s central joke seemed to be: “We have an audience. Hah! Why would they give us an audience? Let’s see what we can do to them.” Which in the hands of a sadist might have been terrifying and psychologically stimulating. But in the hands of a writer whose writing is bolshy without being incisive, I simply felt like the victim of a mediocre subway showtime. This show may be the surrealist movement’s version of Guantanamo bay.
I like the concept of ‘I’m Bleeding All Over the Place’, a promenade piece where the playwright looms over the audience like a video game villain. However, the writing is devoid of imagination, the actors devoid of inspiration, and there isn’t a ‘mise en scene’, so much as general smell of perturbation. I would hesitate to call the play a vanity project, but I wouldn’t hesitate for long. If you really need to see something that’s not a fourth wall realist drama, and there’s no decent Beckett in town, maybe give it a look. But other than that I find nothing in this to recommend it to a person with money to spend on a trip to the theatre.
‘I’m Bleeding All Over the Place’ runs at the Ellen Stewart Theatre at LaMama until June 26th. Tickets starts at $25, the runtime is approximately forty-five minutes and it was created by Brooke O’Harra. For more info and full show schedule, see lamama.org.
This review was written by Thomas Burns Scully, a New York based writer, actor and musician. His work has been lauded by TimeOut NY, the New York Times, BAFTA US, the Abbey Theatre Dublin and other smaller organizations too numerous to mention. His theatrical writing has been performed on three continents. He performs improv comedy professionally and plays lead guitar in two bands. He is generally considered to be the thrifty person’s Renaissance man.
Follow him on Facebook (as Thomas Burns Scully), and on Twitter (@ThomasDBS)