John Fleck’s performance piece flutters around many tantalizing themes — commercialism and the media, narcissism and the emptiness of the showbusiness persona, consumerism and the transience of the physical world — yet never alights. The result is a mildly entertaining but superficial evening.
In his latest piece, Fleck — who gained notoriety in 1990 when he and three other performance artists were denied grants by the National Endowment for Arts — enacts a performer in a jumble of “preparation” and “performance,” which includes an onstage video crew.
Fleck begins with a round of warm-up exercises and physical preparations in which he speaks to himself; when he steps “onstage,” he addresses the audience with his thoughts, and the primary focus throughout the show continues to be Fleck’s body and physical persona, from his feet to his sexual desires.
At one point during the piece, Fleck chooses a member of the audience (actually an actress who has been planted) to “interact” with. However, she turns out to be simply a foil for the continual, obsessive self-worship of Fleck’s character, someone to abuse because she is younger and prettier.
The mix of technology and theater is intriguing: Video cameras project live images onto several monitors, displaying selected details of the performer (e.g. , his foot, his nose or ear) as he works, as the piece shifts continuously between Fleck and the images.
Fleck also makes good use of recorded video material, particularly near the end of the piece when he creates a tableau with himself and three video screens. The theme of this section is sexuality, and the video segments are witty and fun.
Unfortunately, Fleck is tramping through very familiar territory. The narcissistic performer is a much-parodied cultural icon, whose self-centered vacuousness (and by extension, ours) has been pretty thoroughly chronicled. At this point, the cliche has become a cliche. Without some profoundly new take, the subject matter feels recycled.
Part of the appeal of performance art is to cut through the stale conventions of both theater and the visual arts, and to create more personal visions of performance. However, Fleck succumbs to a number of worn-out conventions, such as having the raving performer led off by a uniformed nurse at the end, yelling at the light man and stage manager, or using show tunes in the style of a lounge singer for easy laughs.
Unlike many of the strong performance pieces that starkly reveal the core of the performer’s identity, Fleck dances around his onstage persona, zinging it with biting, satiric barbs that are rarely funny and seldom revealing.