Monday, November 13, 2006

How To Die

Friday night Patrick and I managed to meet to conduct some CHS business, socialize as friends are wont to do, and catch a theater piece together.

The theater piece was How To Die, by and with Keith Hennessey, Jules Beckman and Seth Eisen. How to Die is the second on a three-part series called MANIfesti-VAL, Dance Brigade's Festival for Social Change at Dance Mission Theater in San Francisco's Mission District.

I've been a fan, and distant friend, of Keith for many years. He's frequently, sometimes with friends, invoked God at Reclaiming's Spiral Dances as well as taught workshops to folks in the wider community and at WitchCamps. I admire his Circo Zero, and especially loved a production called Spell, which really was a spell, a pre-election spell in 2004, in which he collaborated with Krissy Keefer and The Dance Brigade, the fabulous Copper Wimmin, and the goddess Hekate.

I warned Patrick this performance would be edgy, and indeed it was. Inspiration for the piece arose from the endemic phenomena in the cities of this country of homelessness, so shameful in a society of abundance; AIDS; suicide; and tweakers.* Among the unusual amalgam of media used were photos of homeless men in the immediate neighborhood passed among the audience; recorded statistics about suicide, suicide by train decapitation in particular; helium voices and condoms; digital self-photos taken and then slide-showed on an iBook; strings of shiny CDs; dance and costume.

The intimacy of the Mission Dance Theater performance space lessened the separation between performers and audience, which I assume was what the creators desired and which is something I prefer.

Perhaps three techniques were most unique. The first was a bathing in a galvanized tub, using tattered underwear as washcloth, followed by the character standing on head and hands in the washwater for a seemingly interminable amount of time. I can say that throughout this performance, as disturbing as it was at time -- as it was intended to be -- the performers held every audience member captive.

Second, and perhaps strongest, was having the primary character literally strung out with a string across the entire width of the performance space through his septum.

Keith is known for pushing boundaries, going beyond 'normal' limits. Tweakedness, dancing, glitzy over-the-top costumes and mock intercourse were not unexpected, but I must say that I could have done without the many spotlighted displays of Keith's asshole. That's the third.

I know to expect strong statements and kick-ass displays. Keith's tendency towards exhibitionism is one of his greatest strengths as well as one of his weaknesses. Yes, it certainly commands people's attention, but is also tends to undercut his message somehow. I haven't quite figured out why that is.

No surprise, I saw a few Reclaiming folks in the audience, and Patrick encountered some people he knows from St. Mary's College. I spied Erik Davis in an upper row as we were filing out of the bleachers and wanted to speak to him, perhaps remind him that we'd met before at the launch of Modern Pagans at the SF Art Institute when I bought his Techgnosis and asked him to autograph it, not that he'd have any reason to remember me. Anyway, for whatever reason, I passed on that. I eventually got around to reading Techgnosis and loved it, and at SheShamans this past June I bought his most recent book, Visionary State (with photographer Michael Rauner). I've browsed the photos and read bits and pieces of it, but have not yet gotten into it with both feet (or eyes, I guess).

If the reader finds oneself in San Francisco at a time when Keith is performing, one would find attending a performance stimulating, thought-provoking, perhaps disturbing, certainly promoting of reflection, and hopefully well worth the effort.

(More of the promised SD postmortem anon.)

* From the program: "The following drugs are somewhat or very tweakish, i.e., chemical assistants to speed and multi-tasking: caffeine, sugar, Ritalin, prednisone, crystal meth, ecstasy (mdma is almost always cut with meth), mda, OxyContin, Wellbutrin, Prozac, Ephedra, Sudafed and anything contgaining ephedrrin/pseudoephedrine, Vicoden, Lorcet, Sustiva, Red Bull, and the many herbal speeds that are so comon now including ginseng, maté."


Dharma Kelleher said...

Sounds like an absolutely fascinating and bold production.

Mama Kelly said...

Just reading your description of some of the play's more powerful moments was enough to give me gooseflesh.

I can only imagine how much more powerful it would've been to see it in person.

mama kelly