By Louis DeVaughn Nelson (@)
I had no idea what I was walking into when I ventured to NYC’s Tribeca neighborhood to catch a preview of The Peculiar Works Project’s newest endeavor. Unfazed by my bewilderment, the taxi driver waved me in the direction of the even number side of the street, not knowing what I was to find, only seeing an art gallery and no semblance of what I assume to be a theater—which is truly fitting for this unique performance happening at 40 Worth Street.
Once I found my way in, I was transported to an unfamiliar place that was completely new to me. Everything looked and felt like a found object with a story to tell. The humdrum moaning of an organ player, art-like art sprawled out throughout a defunct albeit open and lively space, meandering folks of all walks of life ogling at what could have been or maybe wasn’t displaced, the occasional sound of hospitality (someone was offering libations next to what I found out later was an appropriately positioned empty urinal for a tip jar), set pieces hither and tither without a definable stage…I didn’t know who was part of the production or if we were all a part of a procession.
Since the OBIE Award-winning The Peculiar Works Project (PWP) relies heavily on the element of surprise, I don’t want to tell you anything about the show. Arguably, there aren’t many spoilers that I could spat out to ruin your experience except if I state to expect the unexpected.
With over ten years under their belt in producing avant-garde multidisciplinary productions in unorthodox places through PWP – masterminds Ralph Lewis, Catherine Porter, and Barry Rowell strive to “challenge the conventions of alternative theater”.
With Floydada, the nonconventional style of PWP has the perfect vehicle with which to pay homage to anti-art, as Dadaism once touted a new platform that would be appropriate for PWP’s mission. Without the overbearing tumult of tradition, one might think that PWP would have an easy ride with exploring the sometimes absurdist ways of expressing and/or creating art which were pegged by pioneers the likes of Duchamp, Kandinsky, Höch, Man Ray, etcetera during the first World War.
PWP alum Barry Rowell’s script doles out the pithy nature of sibling rivalry, southern frivolity, and the passion for art. It is masterfully directed by David Vinning (www.cageyproductions.com), and is led by performers Catherine Porter, Nomi Tichman and Yoonmi Lee. It would be abominable not to mention the tech crew as a whole considering so much of this work is a tour de force in stagecraft and spectacle—the piece holds no bounds in challenging itself to walk the fine line between civility and hilarity. There is something awry with a story of a small-town (Texas no less) family of two sisters delving into the creation of a lowbrow high art cabaret show in the 1920s.
It starts off in the middle of nothing and the plot amorphously evolves as the exposition arrives. Dalia and Ada, completely opposite, yet exactly the same, use the Dada aesthetic to cope with a serious looming issue that takes shape throughout the course of the show in atypical fashions. Dalia, played by Porter, is the artist whose world becomes a canvas while Ada, played by Tichman, is the muse to cure the creator from reality. Both put a tremendous amount of work into their portrayals as
there are no artistic genres not addressed in Floydada. The non-stage creates a playground that toys with the audience in its delivery and deception. While at first their articulation is nonchalant almost in a jarring way, the payoff comes in the form of patience; the buildup is well worth the wait.
Along with the vibrant and haunting presence of Lee as the Stage Goddess (for intents and purposes), the three women weave together a seamless gradation of media that goes appreciatively unrelenting.
I took some time after the performance to examine the objects and to marvel at the meticulous details that went into the production as well as the attached, adjacent or analogous “art” exhibition. The remnants of inspiration were everywhere and it was a thoughtful effort on account of all of PWP to mount something that could be deemed much in their comfort zone but you can see it was a very laborious and ambitious undertaking in how it was mounted.
If you have a degree in art or an art-related field (or you are just an art nerd in the general sense) you’ll be mesmerized by your own acumen and perhaps giggle to yourself while your neighbors are wondering how it is that you’ve come to catch something they did not. If you aren’t an artist, you’ll have a lot to learn from Floydada in that your interest in this unique perspective might just be something you won’t ever be able to grasp; and maybe that’s the point.
Floydada, presented by eh Peculiar Works Project, plays at the Merchant’s Square Building through April 11. For information and tickets visit www.peculiarworks.org.