“Airport Music” and “All for You,” two performance pieces presented in repertory, will do nothing to dissuade critics (professional and amateur) that the season coming to a close at the Joseph Papp Public Theater has been spotty in the extreme.
Ending a season whose highlights included intriguing works from Anna Deveare Smith and Michael John LaChiusa with such negligible efforts is disappointing if not disheartening. It’s a fine idea to have the Public’s smallest stage, the Susan Stein Shiva Theater, given over to experimental works, but surely worthier contenders for the space exist.
The better of the two is “Airport Music,” a rumination on the flight and plight of Filipinos settling in the promised land of America. Jessica Hagedorn and Han Ong trade snatches of beat poetry patter and stylized movement in their reminiscences of immigration and the search for identity.
Despite the ineffectiveness of a surprisingly shoddy stab at multimedia (a slide projector flashes words and images on a large screen), the piece does contain odd moments of genuine, heartfelt connection.
Ong, a Chinese-American playwright raised in the Philippines, is responsible for most of the high points, particularly in recounting his father’s inability to adapt to American ways.
Still, even the best material doesn’t quite survive the arty posturing. One leaves the theater wanting more cultural examination and less self-impressed expression.
But at least one leaves the theater after Ong and Hagedorn have finished. John Fleck’s aggressively annoying “All for You” had such a steady stream of walkouts during the reviewed performance that the artist, best known for being a National Endowment for the Arts reject, was compelled to work the noisy interruptions into his act.
Attired mostly in skimpy black briefs and shadowed by a small crew of videotapers and other faux-techies, Fleck screeches, belches, convulses and caterwauls his way through a mock performance as a neurotically needy showbiz type a la Judy Garland.
Whether romancing the shoe of a hapless front-row audience member or schmoozing a shy young girl (a plant, it turns out) with Hollywood insincerity, Fleck’s nervous-breakdown shtick wants to skewer both media manipulation and the pathological hunger for validation that feeds it.
Fleck might afford himself some perverse gratification when his intentionally irritating style sends audience members to the door, but even that dubious achievement is diminished with the realization that the walkers are just as likely bored with tired material and overused targets. Deriding showbiz unctuousness is about as easy as satire gets. Fleck would find fresher ground by turning his gaze from the phoniness of Hollywood glitz to the pretensions of ostensibly avant-garde performance art.