With Dad's Garage Theatre's Zurich Plays, playwrights Brian Griffin and Marc Cram offer a history of Dada. Granted, unless you already know the movement's background, you have to take their word for its fidelity to the historic record, because the play itself is in the Dadaist style. First presented in the Dad's Garage Top Shelf space in 1997, Zurich Plays amounts to an hour-and-a-half of baffling behavior that defies rational explanation but frequently entertains.
Cram and Stephano Andreas portray the play's central roles of Dada founders and writers Richard Huelsenbeck and Tristan Tzara, respectively, though each actor may appear as, say, Napoleon or characters from Greek tragedies. Rather than spell out Dada's literary and philosophical implications, Zurich Plays offers such spectacles as men wearing diapers and giant safety pins hopping like kangaroos, or renowned artists making sounds like steam engines or banging on found-object glockenspiels.
Making full use of hidden doors, bizarre costumes and zany sound effects, Zurich Plays is akin to watching random sketches of "Monty Python," only with no context, straight men or characters you can identify with. As it goes along you don't really make sense out of it, but patterns and repeated lines give the appearance of an underlying structure. Favorite phrases are "virgin microbe," "You are pilly and noisome" and "That was un-Dada-like behavior," which are spoken, sung or splashed across huge cards.
The program offers short biographies of the "real" personages, but they can only help you so much. Directed by Griffin, Zurich Plays proves most enjoyable when focusing on individual bits of acting, theatricality or comedic shtick. For instance, Cram announces, "Life works out a bit like this," then proceeds to violently vibrate and make sputtering sounds, along the lines of David Byrne having a seizure. The "Ballet in the Brain of Dada" has Tim Cordier (as Man Ray, wearing a beard over half his face) and Steve Westdahl dancing preposterously to Frank Zappa-like music, then uproariously segueing into the origin of a familiar chocolate-and-peanut-butter snack treat.
At one point Andreas demonstrates "Dada death," by shouting, leaping off the edge of the stage -- and doing precisely nothing. He simply stands there, at first sheepishly, then with a perverse impertinence, for what seems like an eternity. It's what you could call an Andy Kaufman moment, and it's amusing to see the audience go through cycles of long silence, then nervous laughter, then more silence, and so on.
As Andre Breton, George Faughnan proves fun not simply for, say, appearing dressed as a giant cigarette, but in the way he then lights a regular cigarette like a suave boulevardier. He gets the play's purest moment of showmanship by crooning and doing a soft-shoe dance like a classic vaudevillian, moving through the audience's center aisle and singing with vocal phrasing that seems to emulate everyone from Satchmo to Sinatra.
But the play's most memorable and insouciant presence may be Eammon Glennon as artist Marcel Duchamp, or "Marcel Douche-amp." (Kathryn Colegrove's set features a rotating reproduction of Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase.") Glennon doesn't have as much dialogue as many of the others, but commands attention simply by maintaining an expression of above-it-all aplomb throughout.
Griffin, Cram and company seem sincere in their attempts to do justice to Dada's originators. Still, there's a fine line between performance art and sheer annoyance, and plenty of moments in Zurich Plays can try your patience. But it's primarily an enjoyment, featuring "rainstorms" of words projected on the set and such quotable paradoxes as: "A gentleman never admits that he is a gentleman. I am a gentleman."
The last scene has the principals -- who happen to be dressed as huge geometric objects -- declaring the end of Dada and going their separate ways. Zurich Plays in fact concludes so suddenly that you can't help but wonder if it's the show's final prank, a fake resolution meant to dupe the audience one last time. How very Dada that would be.
Zurich Plays plays through May 26 at Dad's Garage Theatre Company, 280 Elizabeth St., with performances at 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat. and 5 p.m. May 6 and May 13. $12-15. 404-523-3141.
Little harsh, in'it?
Oh that's right...I DID say enjoy yourself.
Go to hell Kombo!
When will you be accepting applicants for the 2014 competition?
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