In the Fall of 2002, we were considering several projects when we noticed that Eric Bogosian was performing something called THE WORST OF ERIC BOGOSIAN around the country. Though we had performed/produced several of his one-man shows in the past, we thought we were through with those. (Bogosian had said he'd stopped writing them, and his last one, WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE, included several solos where the character was either Bogosian himself or someone very like him. We didn't think performing "him" would be appropriate. Besides he'd already performed it at Washington University in St. Louis.)
But THE WORST caught our eye. It sounded like a Greatest Hits, and maybe it would be something it would be fun to do (with the flexibility that such a piece offers). We sent Bogosian's agent a request for information, and included reviews and features of our past work. He passed it along to Bogosian, and a note came our way from Eric himself. He said he didn't usually let others rearrange his work, but since we'd done so much of it, he'd be curious as to what we'd do. He included all his books in the package, along with a description of how he arranges his WORST.
We were excited about hearing directly from Mr. Bogosian, and getting his permission to take a look at our version of THE WORST. We selected our lineup (a combination of favorite pieces we'd done and others we liked, not all from Bogosian's own list), and they were approved.
We considered several spaces for production, then followed our instincts to schedule a "tour" of three different (and different-sized) spaces. (It was our little town version of the last Rolling Stones tour).
We opened with two nights at The Commonspace, a new non-profit gallery gathering and performance space on North Grand, in between The Fox and Powell Hall. It was a good way to start, a very intimate space, with the ambience of playing on the same nights and on the same street as the touring production 42nd STREET and The St. Louis Symphony.
The production then moved for two weekends at Technisonic Studios. This is the third show we've done there, and the clean lines and acoustics, technical support and comfort of this first-class production studio was another good stage for this show.
And we closed with a wild, closing Sunday night show at The Duck Room at Blueberry Hill. It was our biggest and most responsive crowd, and our hunch that the show would play well at that space was right on.
It was exciting to tour the show in different locations in the city, and, especially, at Blueberry Hill. Joe Edwards is behind a move to launch a permanent legitimate theatre space in The Loop area, and we hoped to add to the momentum with this show. (And it was also very cool to perform where Chuck Berry plays.)
For more information on Eric Bogosian, go to the
Eric Bogosian website at www.EricBogosian.com.
|The Worst of Eric Bogosian
By Judith Newmark
Post-Dispatch Theater Critic
As a performance artist, Eric Bogosian seems to create himself onstage. Exploiting theatrical conventions that allow performers to go all-out emotionally, Bogosian takes advantage of the spotlight to show off what seem to be aspects of his own personality, notably the desire to throw tantrums.
But what is a performance artist? Break it down, and Bogosian is a writer and an actor (both careers he has pursued successfully, independent of each other). Maybe the performance artist isn't "creating himself" at all. Maybe - like writers or actors - he's just creating characters.
Look at it in those terms, and "The Worst of Eric Bogosian," the new Midnight Company show, makes a lot more sense. Though it might be peculiar for Joe Hanrahan to "impersonate" Eric Bogosian, there's nothing odd about Hanrahan playing characters. Actors do that every day; it's more or less their job.
And in fact, seeing an actor other than Bogosian in the loose collection of scenes that comprise "Worst" emphasizes the durability of material and the shrewdness of the writing. When Bogosian performs his pieces, lines get blurred. Performance art makes us wonder what's "real" and what's "made up."
Contemporary theater is fascinated by questions like those. But when Hanrahan performs the scenes, the questions turn to the material itself. We move away from psychological biography and into dramatic substance.
That - in the hands of Hanrahan and director David Wassilak - turns out to be wildly vulgar and shockingly comic, an electrical storm of modern sensibilities bursting over American life.
Hanrahan emerges into the playing area voice-first, growling curses before we even see him. This first character - bowlegged, hunched over and maybe mentally ill - is obsessed with water pollution, which he proceeds to describe with nauseating specificity. The accumulated detail gets so elaborate that it's as funny as it is crude. The scary part is - is this guy actually wrong?
This scene, called "Dirt," raises the curtain for an array of men whom Bogosian introduced in three well-known solo pieces ("Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll," "Pounding Nails in the Floor with my Forehead," "Wake Up and Smell the Coffee'). They include a foul-mouthed dope dealer on the edge of violence, the details TBA; a "stud" boasting of his conquests, and a mildly retarded street person whose touching good nature has withstood the battery of hunger, loneliness and fear.
In the funniest scene, Hanrahan portrays a divorced man of absolutely no insight in conversation with his (unseen) therapist. This guy congratulates himself on only ripping the phone from his ex-wife's wall. "I didn't throw it," he notes with a modest blush of accomplishment.
This is Bogosian's strongest suit as a writer: He can create characters who tell us more than they intend. Sometimes, they even tell us the opposite of what they think they mean.
Dressed entirely in black and using just a few simple props, Hanrahan establishes each character with the actor's most traditional tools: his body and his voice. Hanrahan and Wassilak stretch both far.
The most "natural" scene, a volatile theater artist greeting his audience, feels closest to the "real Bogosian." But in the context of "Worst," Hanrahan and Wassilak force us to wonder if this man, alternately wooing and mocking his audience, is just another character too. They get around the modern theater questions after all.
Hanrahan and Wassilak, Midnight's cofounders, opened "The Worst of Eric Bogosian" at The Commonspace, an intimate gallery in Grand Center. Next they will take the show on the road to other venues.
| KDHX Theatre Review
The Worst of Eric Bogosian
The Midnight Company
Reviewed by John Erysian
Being an irreverent Armenian fellow, I am familiar with the work of Eric Bogosian. He has been described as a performance artist and comedian, but is really a writer who acts.
So when the Midnight Company notified me of their performance of an exclusive St. Louis premiere, I chose this show to review. The classic contrast of the first performance in a freshly drywall taped white box one hundred yards away from a glitzy production at the Fox Theatre was too ironic to miss. Call it getting back to theatre roots, cheering for the underdog, whatever you want!
Midnight, which has presented Bogosian's work in the past, is the first theatre company Bogosian has granted the rights to perform this collection of ten monologues.
Joe Hanrahan performs and David Wassilak directs a one-hour parade of Bogosian's take on among other things ecology, sex, drugs, affluence, love, hate, anger and class struggle. This show is not for the mild of spirit!
Anyway, Hanrahan "gets it" as his assertive characters plow through the ten episodes, a collection of three different Bogosian shows. Even though "angry" is the term that is most often synonymous with Bogosian, "passionate" is what better suits this man. Hanrahan is incisive where a less talented actor may have been just loud or vulgar.
Wassilak, who co-founded the group with Hanrahan, keeps the show briskly paced with only slight pauses between scenes. An interesting effect finds Hanrahan speaking directly to the audience in the first monologue, then establishing the focus to imaginary points thereafter. This sets the audience for a theatre experience that forces you to get involved emotionally as a participant as well as an observer.
Fun stuff. If you are a baby boomer, as I am, some of the moments will have you laughing at yourself.
And a "Not So Good" review from the Riverfront Times:
We were very pleased with the preceding reviews. Bob Wilcox and Gerry Kowarsky on their TWO ON THE AISLE TV review show also liked it. Alas, Deanna Jent of The Riverfront Times did not. See below. But note, that after her review came out, we commented on it in the show.
The performer adopts a British accent and comments on himself (and the playwright):
"Oh, he´s angry. It´s an angry social message. It´s the cutting edge
of the black hole of the American psyche. I read about it in the
(Bogosian says "Village Voice." Then the performer becomes himself again:)
"No, I didn´t read that in the Riverfront Times. I read Deanna Jent´s
review in the Riverfront Times. And she said this show´s irrelevant. It´s
irrelevant because it touches on violence. Oh, there´s no violence
anywhere, is there? Irrelevant because it talks about pollution. We
cleaned that up a long time ago, didn´t we? It deals with the injustice
of religion. Please, that´s so yesterday. And anyway, the show deals
with men. And why would Deanna Jent want to see anything about
men. Unless they´re dancing and singing, dancing and singing. . ."
And then back to Bogosian:
"Fuck that shit! I´m not angry. I´m happy." (and so on.)
But we were appreciative of Deanna Jent providing inspiration for the ranting nature of this play. And we´re pleased to directly quote Mr. Bogosian, who, when we offered to share these reviews with him, said, "I don´t read reviews so I´m going to have to miss that part."
Whiny Worst coughs up only a few laughs
BY DEANNA JENT (email@example.com)
The Worst of Eric Bogosian
From the Week of Wednesday, March 19, 2003
Eric Bogosian pleads in an Internet letter to critics that they stop overanalyzing his work and, instead, just answer three basic questions: "Are you glad you came to the show? Were you bored? Did you laugh?"
So, in deference to his wishes: No, yes, yes.
The Worst of Eric Bogosian, presented by the Midnight Company, features Joe Hanrahan performing ten Bogosian monologues, compiled as "the best" of Bogosian's three solo shows: Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll; Pounding Nails Into the Floor With My Forehead; and Wake Up and Smell the Coffee. If you're a Bogosian fan, you won't be disappointed with the choices: The characters serve up his typical sociopolitical spew, salted with graphically specific descriptions of sex and peppered with obscenities. If you've never encountered Bogosian before, you may end up like the couple sitting next me, writing on the back of your program, "Why are we here?"
It may be that when these monologues were first written, they were more relevant. Even though topical references have been updated, the work seems stale. Of course pollution and violence are still with us, but Bogosian isn't saying anything we haven't heard before. We know the world is full of garbage; we've heard rants about the injustice of religion. Bogosian does better with character-driven monologues and is most successful in "Intro," in which he simply presents himself. This was the most dramatically satisfying piece, mostly because it had actual dialogue (with Hanrahan playing both parts). Bogosian both explains his work ("really showing you everything I can be") and excuses his work ("If you're disappointed, I understand. I've never really been a likable person"). He criticizes himself (as an audience member): "Phyllis says all he does is play assholes. I have enough assholes in my life already -- who needs one more?" He then rails at the audience: "Well, you know what? Who needs you?" This interplay between audience expectation and artist angst is at least interesting; his subsequent harangues don't fare as well.
Other Bogosian characters in this "best-of" presentation include an aging drug dealer, a mentally handicapped homeless person, a stud boasting of his large penis and a divorced dad with no clue. He ends as a paranoid artist, one who keeps his art in his head so he can escape becoming part of "the system." In embodying Bogosian and his host of misfits, Hanrahan was most successful in "Intro," "Red," and "Breakthrough," in which the characters seemed to make actual connections with people in the scenes or with the audience. In the other pieces, he often seemed to be addressing the monologues to the floor -- director David Wassilak might have helped him by providing another actor for him to play off. Although Hanrahan gave noble effort in his performance, too often we saw the acting technique instead of the character (this was most noticeable in the opening piece and in "Bottleman," in which he seemed to be doing a bad impression of Dustin Hoffman doing his character from Rainman).
To answer Bogosian's question directly, I was not glad I saw the show. It didn't connect with me; it seemed whiny and mildly annoying. I did laugh -- some of his writing is certainly funny, but the laughs weren't enough to justify spending time with these characters. I don't mind theater that makes me angry, that pushes buttons or forces me to confront issues, but this set of monologues didn't do any of that. I just didn't care enough to be offended.
riverfronttimes.com | originally published: March 19, 2003
Revised: October, 2007
© The Midnight Company