Two plays with culinary themes and a pataphysical bent. Two reviewers with appetites for deconstruction and a taste for Alfred Jarry’s science of imaginary solutions. In the theatrical equivalent of a pub crawl, Max and Kirill bicycled from Radiohole’s Now Serving: A Guide to Aesthetic Etiquette in Four Courses at The Collapsible Hole to the Kraine Theatre for a late-night performance of The Infinite Wrench, an East Village institution kept in perpetual motion by the Neofuturists.
Max: The culinary link is obvious in what is billed an “immersive performance dinner party,” but less so in the case of “Infinite Wrench.” Really only the menu structure is food-related. You consult a menu of two-minute plays and shout the number you wish to see performed. With any luck you are heard over the crowd. And the crowd is large.
Kirill (consulting menu): Don’t forget number 27. “We will stop the clock and read out the digits of pi while dancing to Cotton Eyed Joe on a loop until someone in the audience uses this dollar to buy Katie a $1 pizza slice from the place around the corner on 2nd ave between E 4 and E 5 streets.” If we had reacted faster we could have won that whole pizza.
Max: I preferred watching them dance and listening to make sure they weren’t faking the digits of pi.
Kirill: How could you tell?
Max: I know pi when I hear it. In any case, I was in no mood for pizza at “Infinite Wrench.” My appetite was gone from the cold hotdog I was served in “Now Serving.” Or perhaps it was when our hostesses poured ranch dressing all over their faces. A strong image, but not exactly appetizing.
Kirill: The moment before was my favorite, when the frog shouted “SALAD!” and wheeled in a machine that sprayed the audience with rucola.
Max: Was it the frog or the pig? Either way, I loved the useless machines. Like the conveyor belt that carried dirty plates down the middle of the table and dumped them in a filthy pile. The machines I suppose are the link to pataphysics. Duchamp’s “Bride Stripped Bare by the Bachelors, Even” comes to mind.
Kirill: There were thematic links also. But we should decide which play to review first. We can’t very well bounce between them like this or the reader will be confused.
Max: Both plays are essentially controlled confusion. The review should reflect that. As a whole, “Infinite Wrench” did a better job of keeping things confusing. Only for the “message” pieces did the insanity grind to a halt. And then the message was so sane I felt I was being hit on the head with Ubu’s debraining spoon.
Kirill: I thought you, with your radical politics, would like those plays. For example, the one where Michaela Farrell pours water into a glass to Greta Thunberg’s UN speech until it overflows onto the floor. That was clever. And Michaela looked so much like Greta…
Max: There is a time and place for serious messages. A UN summit is one. An absurdist play[s] is not. How are we to laugh at the meaninglessness of life one instant and care about our extinction the next? I need time to care about anything, even global warming. Certainly more than the ten seconds between plays.
Kirill: I disagree. To me the contrast is an excellent jarring device. A wrench in the machine, so to speak. Even when I question the message, I welcome the change in tone.
Max: Your seriousness is your least pataphysical quality.
Kirill: Oh, and what is my most?
Max: Your nonexistence. And this is where “Wrench” parts ways with pataphysics, which programatically refuses to exist or take anything seriously, including itself. It’s where the show reveals itself to be pataphysics with no apostrophe rather than ‘pataphysics proper. It’s an American Alfred Jarry sobering up on Sundays rather than drinking ether nonstop in a Parisian shack on stilts.
Kirill: I doubt many readers will know what you’re talking about. As usual I’ll do the actual work of explaining. ‘Pataphysics is the science of exceptions, an imaginary science founded by French Symbolist Alfred Jarry and conceived as being as far from metaphysics as metaphysics is from physics. The apostrophe in front of the P is generally taken to signify the science pursued deliberately, as by Marcel Duchamp, a Transcendent Satrap of the Collège de Pataphysique.
Max: That was a serious explanation, and therefore wrong. Readers are better off confused than thinking they understand something which by definition cannot be understood.
Kirill: In any case, not all the serious plays in “Wrench” had obvious messages. Yael Haskal showed surprising depth as a young woman simply trying communicate with her mother. And there was a play about M&M’s that fit the overall style yet still made a point about marketing and corporations.
Max: True, that one did work. My favorite though was the five ages of a king as portrayed by a green apple. The homage to Magritte was clear, and the stabbing of the apple recalled Macbeth, which of course inspired Ubu Roi.
Kirill: You’re really reaching with your references, Max. And besides, I think “Now Serving” is closer in spirit to Jarry and ‘pataphysics. The useless machines, the ubuesque fat man with a pig snout, the banal small talk recalling Ionesco, Grand Satrap of the Collège.
Max: You saw all this coming, which is why you brought your Dr. Faustroll.
Kirill: I admit, I wanted to brush up for our review. And at some point in the dinner party the book got splattered with some kind of blue goo. At first I was upset, but then I realized that nothing could be more pataphysical, as when Duchamp’s “Bride” cracked in transit and he accepted the cracks as part of the piece. The book is now complete. Or rather, its incompleteness is complete.
Max: The culinary link is also more clear in “Now Serving.” Certain audience members sit at a long table and are served a feast of “haute vaginal cuisine” while their servers make pointless small talk into microphones. From our seats in the gallery the diners looked somewhat uncomfortable, don’t you think? Both with being watched and with what they were eating. Especially during the long periods of silence.
Kirill: Discomfort was probably the point, but I have to agree about the silence. I imagine it had something to do with the diners taking longer than the writers expected. Still, there were some fine ideas. The Wonder Bread dropping from the ceiling. The phone booth as a loudspeaker. The wine from IV bags. And I did enjoy the complimentary Junior Mints.
Max: You forget the large cigarettes and other props drawn on white paper. Very Jarryesque. They say he once went to the opera in a paper shirt with a tie drawn on it.
Kirill: Yes, I told you that. The sets, props, and costumes do belong in the Musée Patamécanique. But I must say I thought the piece lacked an arc of any kind. Most of the fun came at the beginning, when all was new and surprising. Why not build those excellent elements into a story of some sort, even a simple one? Otherwise the last dish is served and the night simply ends.
Max: Story is the most overrated dish on the menu. What do I care about the fate of imaginary people? It’s hard enough to care about real ones. And besides, Kirill, this spirit of radical experimentation is exactly what drove our Berlin Schreiereien and what we started Reviews from Underground to promote. And while we are on the subject: I have to say our editor has been far too lavish lately in his praise of the straightforward and conventional. And I dare him not to cut that statement [Dare accepted – Ed.].
Kirill: He should probably cut something, as we’ve gone on far too long, even for a long-form review. Even the name tag they gave me at “Infinite Wrench” says so. How did they know?
“The Infinite Wrench” runs every weekend except the last two in December at the Kraine Theatre. Visit nyneofuturists.org for more. “Now Serving: A Guide to Aesthetic Etiquette in Four Courses” ran from November 2-16 at The Collapsable Hole. Learn more at radiohole.com. For an introduction to ‘pataphysics, check out ‘Pataphysics: A Useless Guide.