J.D. Welch - User Experience Design

notes on bobrauschenbergamerica

(it's a play by charles mee and was directed by anne bogart. performed by the SITI company at some theatre in Connecticut)

a scene with phil and phil's girl it's most convienent that the entire text of the piece can be read online, so picking it apart in some semblance of order is possible. the work itself, of course, is not ordered in a particular way (or maybe it is, i'm not sure and i'm not sure it really matters); that is the 'plot' is in no way specifically linear. which is good. i read somewhere that the idea, for mee, was to do a play the way that rauschenberg would, and i suppose in many respects that is what we've got. but unfortunately the direct resemblance to rauschenberg is mostly superficial and, indeed, kitschy. which is also good; i only say unforunate as i was anticipating something other than what was presented. well, on to what was presented.

The text begins with:

An empty stage covered by a blank canvas. A ladder. The actors come out to remove the ladder and canvas.

coming from the house, the cast removes the white fabric to reveal a large flag, the rectangle divided at the deck, sending red and white stripes downstage and uncovering stars, each complete with a clear light bulb.

the image of the chicken is introduced at this point, dropping from the flies with a sign bearing the piece's title. the use of stuffed animal specemens is probably the most direct reference to rauschenberg's combines (oh, yes, by the way, the visual context really only refers to the combines, none of the later work. this is good.), and two props come onto the stage in short order, a deer, on a grass-covered wagon, wearing a pink tutu, and a small baby carriage, with another stuffed rooster pearched on a bed of sunflowers. interestingly, the text says specifies

a stuffed deer on wheels, or maybe a goat with a tire around its stomach.

it is significant that the goat/tire was not used, as this would be a totally unambiguous reference to Monogram, a move which would have increased the homage value of the work, if that's a good thing.

after this initial production number, accompanied by rauschenberg's words (well, most of them. need to check on that.), the cast exits, save bob's mom, who shows slides, ostensibly of bob, but in fact random old images thrown upon the flag. the stage is quite dark, and the slides are very dim against the busy texture of the wall. it takes a minute to realize that the images relate in no way to what bob's mom is describing. both the dimness and disconnect between words and images are quite brilliant and echo the collaged nature of the neo-dada/pop visual strategy. generally, this discussion is staying away from interpreting the text, but it is significant to mention that each of these bob's mom monologues ends with the line "Art was not part of our lives."

the cast acts out a bizarre film written and directed by Becker the filthy derelect, a frantic enough scene, ending in the middle of the film's story, and going right into a 'dance break' with a flourish.

this dance break offers another level to the visual mix: each of the stripes of the flag is lighted seperately, a rather impressive feat of the electrics department, so the red and white beams indicate at one point a disco and at another bars (of an asylum?). this scene ends as abrubpty as the prior, and the characters move right along onto the next thing.

scene 20 gives us martinis. phil's girl, the 'bathing beauty,' enters the stage, covers most of it in a great sheet of clear plastic and exits. she re-enters with a bottle of gin and pours it over the sheet. a wave of the vermouth bottle and a few dozen olives finish the drink, which phil's girl and phil frolic in. taken alone, this outrageously funny bit could (maybe) be a somber performance piece, rich with 'meaning,' but here it's just wet, campy fun.

and so on.

again that line: "art was not part of our lives." this could be the overarching point of the piece: that art and life aren't really any different from one another, not conicidentaly a view taken by rauschenberg throughout his career. the fluid (and natural) transition from naturalistic dialogue to bursting into song and dance support this, as well as the accptance of a great variety of material into the piece.

while the direct apporpriation of material relating to the life and work of rauschenberg and his contemporaries is there, it is rather secondary.

very interesting overall. definitely worth the train ride.

other stuff on rauschenberg by me: Camp Iconography and Gender Performance by Bob Rauschenberg: 1955-61
Antiquity, Sexuality and Technology in the Mid-1960s Work of Robert Rauschenberg