Theatre Troupe Seizes Control of Art Salon, Hurls Offenses At Audience

By Ross Blanchard
Photo by Reuben Broadfoot. Foreground: Corey O’Hara. Background: Evan Corcoran

A few weeks ago at a Ford Gallery event in Southeast Portland, five actors slipped into the venue, seized the microphone from the event’s host during a presentation, and began to shout offenses at the startled and silented crowd.

The art salon in PDX Magazine‘s Mechanical venuewas paying tribute to artist Olinka Broadfoot whose show had launched that evening in the Ford Gallery one floor above. Broadfoot had just delivered a talk about her exhibit and poet Dan Raphael had read, when a man in his early thirties, shaved head, and wearing a yellow nylon jacket burst onto the stage and wrested the microphone from the event’s host.

“You are under review by us,” he shouted to the stunned crowd.

Another man, dressed in a TSA-style uniform, walked through the audience and shone a flashlight in their faces as a third man pointed a video camera at them.

“You don’t have to watch inactively any more,” the man on the stage continued. “You feel the discomfort of being watched and addressed, since you came prepared to watch and make yourselves comfortable in the shelter of the dark. Your presence is every moment explicitly acknowledged with every one of our words.”

The audience remained silent as their faces, captured by the video camera wielded by the third man, appeared on the large projection screen above the venue’s stage.

L-R: Evan Corcoran, Starr Ahrens. Photo by Reuben Broadfoot

L-R: Evan Corcoran, Starr Ahrens. Photo by Reuben Broadfoot

Well, of course it was a preplanned performance. In fact, these actors from the Liminal Performance Group were invited by me, the host of the event, to give a sample of their upcoming production “Offending The Audience” which opened November 6 at Action/Adventure Theater. Co-writer/director John Berendzen and four of the play’s actors — Core O’Hara, Evan Corcoran, Starr Ahrens and Alex Reagan — wandered across the train tracks from the theater after rehearsal and mostly unnoticed into the PDX Magazine event. Their preview of “Offending The Audience”, however, certainly caught our audience’s attention.

In this production, co-writers and directors Berendzen and Misha Neininger have revived Austrian playwright Peter Handke’s 1960s play “Publikumsbeschimpfung” with a modern and local flair, orchestrating a complex vocal, visual and conceptual score out of the original’s bare-bones text: rhythmic sung-spoken lines interact with an electronic soundscape, while surveillance technology confronts the audience who fumble with messy feedback loops in infrared-infused darkness. Not only have they added a twenty-first century feel to the play with a Big Brother motif of TSA agents and security cameras, but they’ve re-written much of the play to address a Pacific Northwest audience in particular.

Berendzen said that “Offending The Audience” is Liminal’s most tech-heavy production to date, which was necessary to achieve the pan-surveillance mood he’s after. Without giving away too much of what’s in store for audiences in this comedic reboot of Handke’s original, I will say that the audience is engulfed in the play even before entering the theater with some of the more intrusive aspects of our post-9-11 lives.

And as for the exact offenses hurdled at the PDX Magazine audience during the Liminal visit, they are a bit foggy to me except for one: the actors called a certain someone a third-rate talk show host. Ouch. Rest assured that there are plenty more to go around, though. The script that Berendzen shared with me has ample offenses to hit every demographic in the Portland Metro area.

Show dates are November 6, 7, 8; 13, 14, 15; 20, 21, 22 – 7:30 pm (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) and November 8, 15, 22 – 2:30 pm (Sunday matinee) at Action/Adventure Theater, 1050 SE Clinton, Portland.

For tickets visit http://publikumsbeschimpfung.eventbrite.com/. More on the Liminal Group at http://www.liminalgroup.org/.

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