Dada Boy Paints on Canvas — part of the Tree Town Performance Festival running throughout the summer at Ann Arbor’s Performance Network — is written by and stars Jeffrey Steiger, with Dada bandleader Frank Pahl (also the leader of the avant-folk band Only a Mother). Back in the early 20th century, the Dada movement used deliberate irrationality, anarchy and cynicism to demolish aesthetic standards, but Dada is just an arty veneer covering the Jeffrey Steiger variety show, a positively goofy romp through the childlike mind of an actor obviously tired of performing other people’s works.
Dada Boy Steiger, accompanied by his white-masked, white-wigged Dada Dancers, is out to demystify the theatrical process — or maybe his show’s just an excuse to sing his quirky-confusing to lovably-idiotic songs, with periodic bludgeonings by Dada Death used as a segue between bits. But he doesn’t so much deconstruct theater as disintegrate it into a happy hop-a-long of absurd poetics and moments of magic, like when Steiger sings, “I’m a bumble bee, you can’t touch me,” while buzzing around the stage (pictured).
Watching Steiger is like watching your best buddies put on a slightly rehearsed show in their basement. Sometimes it’s just so stupid it’s hilarious; sometimes it possesses unexpected insights; and sometimes it’s just dead on the floor, with no hope of resuscitation. You have to appreciate someone who’s willing to make a total fool out of themselves for the sake of art, or self-gratification, or whatever.
On the weightier end of theatrical anarchy is the latest production of local poet-playwright Ron Allen — The Relative Energy Sack Theory Museum — playing weekends through June 29 at ZeitGeist. Relative Energy is a timeless parable of prayer, politics and poetry. It’s a dark discussion inside and surrounding a center ring or a platform for voice or a sensational sexual trap or a porthole to the answer in the perpetual search for “the One.” Robed figures roam about the stage, some chanting “order,” others chanting “chaos,” but they all claim, “We need a weapon,” and the search begins.
Part sideshow, part spiritual inquisition, the play is painted with a concentrated and continual abstraction-reinvention of language-thought — a difficult text to unwind on stage, but under the competent direction of John Jakary you’d never know it. Characters exist in a universe of their own, comfortably emoting impossible word combinations while donning odd-to-outrageous gear.
The Therapist demands, “I am the genetic flaw in God’s plan.” She paces back and forth inside the ring like a trapped tiger, naked, aside from a full-length, dark fur coat and an enormous strap-on black dildo shaped like a fish hook. She’s trying to convince the ones on the outside of the ring that she is the cure, the emissary of the “One” — “I am a sage, hot as a fart in prison” — while her “hook” licks the chin of her prey. In this search for an answer, order is merely a manipulation of chaos, a cleverly packaged freak of nature with a flair for sales. Order is the “shit of geometric time,” an elusive possible tonic that straightens old penises and invigorates those tired of change inside “the cum-stained prison of theater.”
The Relative Energy Sack Theory Museum holds your hand through the death of Barbie — “the diva of the penis,” a “victim of modern primitive man,” a manufactured guiding light to beauty and a constant source of dissatisfaction. It twists the truth around obsolete rituals and profound double-talk inside a story that can only be told through the slippery spaces of poetry. Do not miss it.
Dada Boy Paints on Canvas is at the Performance Network (120 E. Huron, Ann Arbor) June 13-15 at 8 p.m., and June 16 at 2 p.m. The Thursday show is pay–what-you-can; call 734-663-0618.
The Relative Energy Sack Theory Museum is at ZeitGeist (2661 Michigan Ave., Detroit) Fridays and Saturdays (8 p.m.), and Sundays (4 p.m.) through June 29. Admission $15; students with ID $10; call 313-965-9192. Anita Schmaltz checks out the wide world of performance for the Metro Times. E-mail her at email@example.com