I knew nothing about the play. But you had me at "previously performed and published by London's acclaimed Royal Court Theatre." Love that place.
I'm really glad I stayed for the post show conversation of this performance. This is one of those experimental, abstract productions that can either go way over your head or you kind of "choose your own adventure" what symbols within the show are purposeful or meaningful to you. With that being said, what I have to say here is my personal experience of the production, which could and should be completely different from your own.
There are two stories running simultaneously thought Adler & Gibb by Tim Crouch, both focused on the fascinating visual/performance artists Janet Adler and Margaret Gibb. In one, a student is presenting a clear, detailed, slideshow presentation of the life's work and death conspiracy surrounding acclaimed artist Janet Adler and her partner Margaret Gibb. In the other, a budding actress named Louise works intensely with her theatrical coach to capture and portray Adler's lifestyle for a potential biopic on the iconic artist.
I made some notes during the production of some of their pieces of art, quotes and intriguing historical points that I wanted to research later, while working on this review. Apparently they had been championed by Andy Warhol, known for defying norms within the contemporary art world, especially in New York City, and some suspicion still surrounded wether Gibb had played any role in Adler's overdose. I hadn't gotten around the the research yet, and of course I was procrastinating a little, as one does. A few nights later I found myself bowling in East LA with a group of friends. One of them, a set designer by trade, had also seen the show this past week. I hadn't really processed my experience of it with anyone yet. So my jaw basically hit the floor when he told me that the characters Janet Adler and Margaret Gibb were completely fictional. The context of the fact-filled academic presentation, the truthful references and thoughts of the on-stage Gibb character, and the specified world of the play, though abstract, seemed to imply historical accuracy. So I was completely shocked. The play had me take it for a truth, which kind of flipped my initial impressions of it onto a whole new plane.
I don't think this has ever happened to me before.
Based on my assessment, the play became less and less abstract as it progressed. Maybe I was was just getting used to the style, I'm not totally sure. There were times, I would say more so in the beginning when the characters used very little blocking and just their voices to act out the scene, that I got a little bored and the story felt a little slow. A close, highly regarded patron friend of mine said that she couldn't stand the academic storyline, of the student giving the presentation and that this element of the show could be completely done away with. I disagreed with her because I felt like it was that character that kept me grounded in the story, that every time I started to drift from the actress character and the objectives within her plot progression, I could always count on the student to bring me back to some rooted "fact" about Adler, that would eventually build upon the "truth" Louise was striving to claim.
"Commit to your fear, identify your character's objective, overcome your obstacle, get what you want."
There are some interesting ideas floating around in this piece, about how we idolize artists, how we can become obsessed with them. How as artists we can become obsessed with our practice. How we can use someone else's success to further our own. Looking back on the show it's actually very clever how these ideas are exemplified across multiple fronts, apart from the obvious. There are many props used throughout the show that we can choose to add meaning to, or not. Throughout the show a young girl is dictated directions from an on-stage stage manager of sorts through a headset and microphone. In the beginning this definitely seemed weird, but began to form a place in each of the character's stories, as they were dictating others or being dictated themselves. The show affected me as in artist in many contrasting ways, some that I probably can't even articulate here. The play made me want to take new risks theatrically, in rehearsals, as far as focusing solely on one element of performance at a time, and not being afraid to spend that time. In a very backwards way the play relaxed me a little (see how the closing video affects you, especially in comparison to the drama you have just witnessed). The character's mention "letting the nature in," which has both positive and negative consequences within the story, depending on your outlook. Oh gosh this play is subjective! It also makes me want to try and question what I take as truth, considering my initial immediate trust in the so-called historical context of the play. How many times have I done that before? What do I believe that might not be all that true? Time for a fact check.
"What do they say--you die twice--once when you die and again the last time your name is ever mentioned."
Adler & Gibb carries on a short run at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City though January 29th. Take a look and let me know how it affects you. I have a feeling each patron will have a very unique experience with this one.