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Artists in Disguise

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Dear Editor:

I approached your "Fringe Dwellers" article [November 18] with a combination of admiration and contempt. I've got to respect people who are really doing it rather than talking about it, whatever "it" may be. Many a time I've recoiled with loathing when a stockbroker, lawyer or someone with a "real" job has confided in me over a few scotches that he is really a poet or a musician in disguise. Disguise indeed: Anyone with an appreciation of existentialism must concede that authenticity is achieved only through committed actions, not daydreams. Beau O'Reilly, Jenny Magnus and company are the real thing: committed, creative performing artists. But, they are just not very good.

I find it impossible to respect performers who ultimately fail to entertain. If the sum total of their artistic efforts don't yield a satisfying (i.e., entertaining) performance, they, however earnest and well intended, are masturbating, and I am leaving.

Mind you, I am sometimes the only one clapping at the end of a bizarre yet well-conceived and crafted solo. Eliot's Waste Land is more fun for me to read than People magazine, and I'd rather sit through Hamlet for a month than endure one minute of The Young and the Restless. I enjoy off-Loop theater. Grand Guignol gross-out stuff like Annoyance is initially entertaining, but ultimately hollow despite the often first rate performances because of a lack of vision in the writing. I preferred Theater Oobleck, when Jeff Dorchen was their main writer/performer. He is brilliant in spite of himself, not because what he does is profound but because he is so funny, and through that aspect profundity flows.

I saw Maestro Subgum's How Could Such a Monster Come to Be? at Remains back in the summer of '93 (Appropriately titled: It was a monstrosity that begged to be asked "Why")? It was a textbook example of a totally context driven performance deprived of its context. Maestro Subgum was very entertaining if you were drunk and out slumming with the beatniks at Club Lower Links. Removed from this tragically hip setting and placed on a legitimate stage, the flaws, self-indulgence, and lack of craftsmanship was embarrassingly apparent. Perhaps by adhering to a strictly intentionalist aesthetic (i.e., if the artist has created the desired effect, they have succeeded), this work could be justified, that is, if the intended effect was one of having to endure almost three hours of unbearable petulance, ugliness and bad acting, singing and playing. But, intentionalist arguments fall apart, even for Beckett's later works, when you confront the fact that all performances, by definition, must be experienced, prehended, consumed, if you will, to be performances at all. A bad meal cannot be defended with the cook's good intentions.

So I salute Beau and company for their vision of themselves, their integrity and determination. I have heard that they are great people. Perhaps they should take a note from Brecht and become complete assholes. It does not matter: Until they acquire the skills that will make them rise above the horde of "performance artists" who are really comedians who are not funny, and "alternative" musicians who cannot play, and thereby lift them out of Bohemian hell, then The Fringe is exactly where they belong.

PS: Maestro's drummer, Ned Folkerth, is a fine musician.

Mick Archer

S. Michigan

Tony Adler replies:

For the record, the Curious/Maestro people acknowledge How Could Such a Monster Come to Be? as their most embarrassing failure. It is not indicative of their other work.

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