LA NIK A WET
Le Theatre de Banlieue
at the International Performance Studio
Le Theatre de Banlieue's La Nik a Wet is an abrasive, insulting, artless hour of pure onanism. Everything in this cluttered mess reeks of arrogance and ignorance. For over an hour, I found myself in the hands of two self- important but shockingly irresponsible artists--Isabelle Lamouline and Alain Mebirouk, who cowrote and coperform the work--so abusive that after 15 minutes I thought they should be stopped.
Lamouline and Mebirouk seem to think they can pick up where Samuel Beckett left off. La Nik a Wet, with its environment of "battered buckets, basins, tubing and funnels" (they tell you this in a program note, just in case you can't recognize these objects for yourself), tries to create the same bleak, withered, psychological landscape that Beckett exploits so masterfully. Nik (Lamouline) and Wet (Mebirouk), two characters as ugly and meaningless as their names, thrash about in a sort of disingenuous, pseudo-mechanical performance style, erecting vaguely humanoid metal sculptures, barking and hissing and generally looking miserable and angst-ridden, and saying all kinds of "poignant" things. The first line we are subjected to, for example, after listening to Nik pounding on a wash basin with a metal bar for 15 minutes, is: "It is prohibited to dispose of rubbish along public roads." It's clear what the real rubbish is.
Part of Beckett's genius is that he makes unmitigated ugliness curiously beautiful, finds a powerfully sweet sadness in the heroic act of existence. Lamouline and Mebirouk, who exhibit all the subtlety of trash compactors, have shamelessly ripped off Beckett's aesthetic without the slightest understanding of his artistry. They have made the ugly even uglier, made the repellent truly abhorrent. How insulting to see these two charlatans parade about with such monumental hubris.
The play continues in no direction whatsoever and with no sense of pace or structure, as Nik and Wet do all kinds of crass, undignified, "inhuman" things. They try to sell their metal scraps to the audience--"Everything at ten francs!" they howl. They try to sell each other to the audience. They adopt master and servant roles. Wet at one point calls Nik "my trained greyhound, wild stallion of the pampa Mademoiselle Rubis," and Nik obligingly gets on the floor and starts growling.
Throughout, the two performers insist upon making abusive noise. They bang on metal, drop clanging objects, smack bells with metal bars, and scream. Many times during the evening, Wet pulls a clarinet mouthpiece from his pocket, puts it to a piece of pipe, and forces out sounds that are simply horrible. This particular choice--using a clarinet mouthpiece--perfectly demonstrates the work's lack of intelligence. First of all, putting a long pipe to a clarinet mouthpiece doesn't make it sound any different. Perhaps blowing into the pipe itself would be interesting (ever hear of a pipe organ?), but that seems beyond the level of skill of these performers. Second, Mebirouk can't even play the clarinet mouthpiece. He can't get more than three sounds out of it. And last, what on earth is a clarinet mouthpiece doing in this postnuclear world of scrap metal?
At least two-thirds of this show consists of nothing but strident, abusive noise, with no acoustical or musical interest whatsoever. If you're going to bang on garbage cans in a theater, then at least demonstrate for your audience why they should listen to such a thing. Does it create a mood? Does it imply something about a character? Does it delight us with its unexpectedness? These people make noise. Endlessly.
Most offensive of all, near the end of the piece, Lamouline and Mebirouk begin to invite audience "participation." One man "won" a trip to Africa, and a big metal pipe was placed on his head like a crown. The man was made to seem a fool, his dignity entirely ignored (you should have seen the expression on his face). Later, Wet goes so far as to caress the face of a woman in the front row. How dared he come anywhere near this woman, who sat politely for an hour --a heroic feat--despite the masturbatory childishness of the performer, and who paid to endure this? How dare he presume to make "genuine" contact when his performance has been a complete sham?
I'm sure that some people would say that any work of art (though I would never call this a work of art) eliciting such a strong reaction must be a success on some level. It moved me, they will say. It forced me out of complacency. Well, gay bashing forces me out of complacency too, but there's nothing "successful" about that. Even though I feel strongly about supporting experimental art, this production was unconscionable. There's a line between experimentation and reckless disregard for the dignity of the audience. I cannot imagine why the Dreiske Performance Company presented this work.