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What would you do to prove your bona fides as a New Yorker? You might say, yo! Jerk face! I was born here! Uhv course Ahm a New Yowkah! You, sir, have nothing to prove. But what about those of us who moved here? Particularly those of us who moved here from The Sticks, the Great Flyover, or, worse yet, the wilds of the Great White North?
When asked who is the greatest poet in the English language, most people will say “Shakespeare.” When asked who is the second greatest poet they might say “Keats.” But would anyone say “Milton?” These days it’s hard to find a college graduate who has read Animal Farm from cover to cover, much less Paradise Lost, written by a man who was once thought to be a greater poet than Shax himself.
But it was not always thus. John Dryden, himself a onetime contender for the title of greatest poet in the English language, friend and younger colleague to Milton, supposedly said after reading Paradise Lost, “This man cuts us all out, and the ancients too.” Though Milton was an old republican revolutionary and Dryden a loyal monarchist, Dryden liked Milton’s epic so much he adapted it for the stage by rewriting it in rhymed couplets and setting it to music.
Paul Van Dyck has done Dryden one better by keeping Milton’s sublime poetry unrhymed and using all the modern theatrical arts to make Paradise Lost come to life at the FRIGID Festival. I can say without qualification that this is the best theater – the most relevant to our time, the most uplifting, the most artistic, simultaneously the most esoteric and exoteric, visually, aurally, and intellectually stimulating – that I have seen in a long time. And running under an hour, it makes getting some high culture as enjoyable as possible for those of us inflicted with ADD by the modern age.
Have you ever wondered what would happen if gravity changed its direction? Like, what if left was all of a sudden down? How would the stuff in the room that’s not nailed to the floor readjust itself ever so violently into the wall? The thought is a pleasantly anxiety producing mental exercise – what would I do if the room I am in was suddenly tipped on its side? It’s good to get some perspective on life, even if does require being head over heels. Isn’t that why people go to the theater or see movies anyway?
Romantic love, the kind all the movies are about, often produces the same vertiginous feeling, as if the room you are in is about to be suddenly and without warning tipped on its side, and you and the charming person you are with might be literally thrown together in to all kinds of awkward, unexpected physical intimacies. Poets have used anthologies full of metaphors to explain this effect: love is magic, transforming a skinny, awkward duckling into a graceful swan; love is a hallucinogenic drug that can give you angelic (or demonic) visions; ultimately, love is the feeling of flying, and the attendant fear, complete with sweaty palms, a queasy stomach, and the desire to squeeze your eyes tightly shut, so you can’t see what a predicament you’re in.
Ars Gratia Artis
Are you the kind of person who got a bonus from Santa Blankfein, and wants to blow it on a family trip to see a revival of “West Side Story” from seventh row center? Do you like your theater to observe the Aristotelian unities of time, place, and action? Do like it when a play is “realistic” or “believable”? I bet you watch a lot of reality TV too. Yeah, that’s right. You heard me. Simple plots, syrupy sentiments, lots of slow-mo’s and major key power chords, that’s what you like, you philistine.
Now, if you prefer the nitty-gritty, avant-garde; if Zach Galifianakis and John Hodgman leave you in stiches; if you live for the excitement of theater so live you can feel the blood, sweat, and tears of the performers sprinkling your hair and getting caught in your mustache, the FRIGID festival, on till March 7th is for you. Give thanks for New York City, where you can see theater that is truly “state of the art.”
In college, a friend of mine said tripping on acid was the ultimate inside joke: if you’d done it you got it; if you hadn’t you wondered what the big deal was.
You could say the same for modern art, religious enthusiasm, and fashion week. From an outsider’s perspective the shiny, happy faces and breathless testimonials are either delusional or cynically fake. But LSD is more than a social convention or manifestation of groupthink; it affects the body and the mind – the bodymind – simultaneously, fusing the two in the most unexpected and necessary ways. In religious terms, it’s the equivalent of Eve eating the apple. Before you taste it you are an extra in the movie of your own life, observing your emotional pain with cool detachment through the lens of endlessly repeated, self-deluding narratives. From the secure perch of innocence nothing can really touch you. Afterwards you know the meaning of good and evil from the inside.
Martin Dockery’s new dramatic monologue The Bike Trip playing now at the Kraine Theater explores the awakening promised by LSD and its ramifications thoughtfully and with nuance. And he gives the audience a rather large dose of humor too.
IT OR HER, a new play by Alena Smith being performed now at the FRIGID festival is a cross between Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” and Baron-Cohen’s “Brüno”. When that pitch line occurred to me in the darkened theater, I thought I was being pretty clever (if catty), but when I read the official blurb in the press packet I saw that the allusion was intentional. The playwright intentionally copped Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”, albeit in a cute, neo-absurdist way.