THE FUTURE OF ALL ENTERTAINMENT
August 22, 2014
A lullaby cooing, “My blood is coursing through your veins,” is bound to do some damage. Nathan Campbell crawls out in a soiled diaper, begging mommy to end him. He wants only to always end. If not her, someone will do the honors. Through prosthetic curls, Max Ritvo sings tenderly to the babe in vain. Our minds associate death, but what does ending actually entail? Projections of fetal development and infant sibling cannibalism in storks try to teach us, but comedy troupe His Majesty, The Baby is a tar pit of blissful befuddlement in We’re Very Proud and We Love You So Much.
Flippantly crude performances allow meditations on fate to surface. John Griswold and artistic director Shon Arich-Lerer share a vague romantic argument, thrice recited forwards (as breakup) and backwards (as rekindling). Being a palindrome, we know how it ends after one go-around, yet each is inflected differently, ineffably redefining each familiar turn. They return as father and son. Arich-Lerer allows Griswold to do to him everything he never did to his own father, including murder.
The “Future of All Entertainment” lies in Biff Stanton’s Circle – theorizing comedy as merely the ability to predict laughter. A projector tells a series of “jokes” – slides stating when we are silent, giggling, and laughing – always correct. The troupe toys with the nature of audiences – the balance of autonomy and captivity. In a scene where an elderly former child star quivers her Parkinsonian hand above people’s heads as an applause-fueled truth detector, we discern the truth before even knowing the construct.
His Majesty is endlessly innovative, down to the form of sketch comedy itself. Rather than centering on theme, interconnected characters, or complete haphazardness, each sketch offers new situations and people under the same arbitrary rules governing their universe. As Griswold refuses to kill his father, Arich-Lerer births his own child to do the deed, using the truth detector bit in which we are now fluent but still susceptible to predict the outcome. We clap, Griswold protests, and we stop. End-of-show acknowledgements rouse us again; the baby kills, our only true choice unwittingly executed following convention.
More incredible than their virtuosic wit and imagination is that they know these tactics will work, risking complete failure if miscalculated. By the end, free will feels like fate’s cold shackles – our ability to choose gives way to unadventurous habit. His Majesty manipulates us into our own habitually free and, thereby, predictable choice. We discover audience etiquette as inane as each sketch’s circumstances.
Along with verbal prowess is unique physicality. When the palindrome moves forward, the actors travel backwards; baby Ritvo latches on to father Arich-Lerer in partnering even dancers might not dare. We are made to fill gaps and move closer like a college seminar, and after, spectators determined to be deceased, are escorted from the theatre. We are ended more so than the show itself. Last-ditch efforts at agency find some leaving before being pronounced dead, but are just as well under His Majesty’s coercion.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews