By the way, that photo above is by Jim R. Moore
I hope I’m not dating myself for loving Victoria Libertore’s work as much as I do and for the reasons I do. When I first came to this city, her brand of autobiographical solo work was branded “performance art”. I haven’t heard the term in a long time, mostly because everyone has come to acknowledge that it is what sensible heads always said it was — theatre. But yes, it has aspects of other art forms and other methods of discourse. Autobiography is certainly a non-fiction form; but so is biography, and biographical plays get done all the time. And Vic’s work (much like the late Spalding Gray’s
) could also sit comfortably on a shelf containing “humor” alongside more literary figures from Mark Twain
to Sarah Vowell
, although her work often takes turns for the darker.
Whatever it is, it reminds me of the late 80s, when a lot of such work was being done. At the time I thought I hated it but now I realize I only hated most of it because I hate most of everything, as is the lot of the critical personality. I certainly didn’t hate masters like Spalding Gray or Karen Finley, for example. And then I begin to see a good rationale for calling it performance art. The material being presented to the audience is the artist herself. Not just her story, but her totality: her personality, her body, her intelligence, her charm. The experience sinks or swims on whether you like or care for the person standing right in front of you on stage. That’s something you’re born with, like a fingerprint, or a part in the hair. The line between self-indulgence and generosity has to do with a value judgment on the audience’s part as to whether you the performance artist are giving us your life…or you are stealing an hour or two of ours. And unless you are absolutely fascinating in every respect, the latter has always got to be the case.
Fortunately, Libertore is fascinating in every respect. Walking in, the Duchess and I were like, “This’ll probably be about an hour long”. Going home, we noticed the show had lasted nearly two. Not only didn’t I notice or mind, but was sad to see it end. One can watch Libertore and watch her and watch her. Not because she is attractive to look at (which she undoubtedly is) but because she behaves with the class and gravity and self-assurance of a stage veteran. She already seems like a giant to me, though I get the sense that she is also at the beginning stages of a journey that will make her even more of one. (Her audience is now almost entirely LGBT, and that mostly — like her — L. As someone who is none of those things, I think the power of her work is universal and she can pack in people of every orientation, who will be addicted once they discover her).
The present piece No Need for Seduction is centered around a marriage proposal on a vacation with her lover to Bali, and all the issues it dredges up: commitment, loyalty, honesty, guilt, doubt, fear. Hoo boy, it really should be required viewing for the red state people who seem to have such a deep hatred for something they clearly know nothing about. One of them (sadly, inevitably) is the artist’s father, who has that and a few worse sins to atone for, even within his own scheme of the world’s moral architecture.
One of the countless reasons the journey Vic takes us on is so watchable is that she is so tough and strong and funny. When hitting inevitable rough patches in her story, she never begs for sympathy. In the worst performance art I used to see back in the day, the artist would pump up crocodile tears and bawl on cue night after night about their own misfortunes. It turned my stomach, but it always seemed to work on the rabble around me in the audience. Vic, by contrast, involuntarily broke into tears a couple of times on opening night — and then employed a little humorous and original strategy she’d clearly devised to steer herself out of the predicament. The woman’s eye is on the ball. Her objective is to tell an important, moving and entertaining story. It is not to cry. Furthermore, she is the last thing from a Saint and is adamant about telling us so in her self-deprecating way. (Such people, in my view, stand a much better chance of becoming one).
The piece is very well written, structurally tying together many disparate elements (sex, phobias, death) in a way that is not forced but organic and really works. And the fabric that overlays that skeleton, full of vivid and juicy detail, is so enjoyable you don’t want it to stop. Like the gregarious storyteller that she is, Vic goes on many digressions, but (and I paid careful attention) they were always germane, always led back to the theme. In fact, everything reflected back to the point, including the little Kali face Vic makes when she enters the stage, which at first just seems like she’s just sticking out her tongue. (So kudos too to director/ dramaturg Leigh Fondakowski).
Lastly, to return to my opening sentence, about dating myself. I can’t believe I hear myself saying this (as I increasingly do) but it’s awfully nice to see some work for a change that’s mature, that’s about something, that’s by and for adults. It’s really nice (depressingly refreshing, in fact) to spend two hours in the company of someone who thinks and feels and cares for essences as much as much as forms. It is the ability to do so that explains the play’s title. But you’ll have to see the show to truly understand. I advise you to do so. It’s at Dixon Place through May 25. Tickets and info are here.
And here’s a cool video interview with Victoria and Vaudevisuals’ Jim Moore right here: https://vimeo.com/65926332