August 25, 2014
From pitch black, a voice calls, “Officer?” White light flares on Leslie Baker, between a roar and a howl, too close for comfort. A cheap shot, but it gets the job done. Stark images follow, punctuated by blackouts, until Baker, donning electric blue curls, puritanical black dress, and stiff tap shoes, shuffles about to a distorted Charleston. She lists Robert Wilson foremost in her mentors, evident in her alienated affectations, minimalist set, and Tim Rodrigues’s choreographed lighting.
Fuck You! You Fucking Perv! is essentially a dramatic monologue by Joseph Shragge, from which episodic digressions veer. Baker has (or has not) been assaulted, traumatized to the point of psychosis. Cooperation turns resentful as she takes matters into her own hands until the assailant, who police claim has been apprehended, invades her home (or doesn’t). We only have her word to take; curiously, it’s the only element lucidly delivered.
The story is home, but the cheerful time-stepping moves us along. “What’s black and blue and hates sex? THE TEN YEAR OLD IN MY TRUNK!” snickers Baker, unconcerned with our response (muted laughter followed by self-hatred). She seems in a vacuum. Her blue hair connotes John Wayne Gacy. A proficient tapper, we’re diverted as she laments, “Pedophiles – ALWAYS fucking immature ASSHOLES!”
Scattered about are images of Baker behind closed doors. She lifts her skirt, vividly colored underneath, swing dances, burrows her fingers down her throat, dry-humps air, and heaves in pain. Others tread between private moments and composed symbolism: She tapes her neck, feathers it, and chugs a bottle of bleach.
Segregated tones eventually mesh. A “joke” becomes sincere sympathy for an assailant whose true target is unattainable. Comparing pedophilia and borderline personality disorder, a voice-over lists their symptoms, each ending with “DISCARD,” leveling diseases normally viewed as cause-and-effect. From a colorful tabletop, reminiscent of Baker’s knickers, emerge paper children like a pop-up book. Now a predator, she gnaws their heads off.
Formal elements are divorced and re-synchronized, illustrating fragmentation of the victimized psyche. Baker scratches to the sound of a chainsaw. Filling in reality like a coloring book, a pill bottle contains peanut butter she lathers on her forearm with a butter knife, licking as the voice-over lectures on self-harm. Baker stands still; we hear her thoughts as rapid whispers, densely overdubbed, as if, like blaring headphones, her mind is actually screaming.
Theatricality sabotages Baker’s impact had it been pure performance. Recorded sound frees her from any real danger; her miming, perhaps believable elsewhere, is painfully uncommitted up close at 64e4 Underground. She gets tired, not to the point of exhaustion resulting in visceral abandon, but to a point causing her to lose the precision required to perform psychosis in a way that is not insulting to those actually suffering from it. She has you sit on one side of the space, begging the question if the work is either in the wrong venue or if the form itself fits the content. Though her imagery is strong, her subject matter demands more.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews