Strange Love

Skewed Visions; at Casket Arts through October 14612.201.5727

The Cold War might ostensibly be finished, but a segment of our leadership still pines for perpetual conflict and warfare in the name of defense (and if that's not enough nostalgia for you, the Russians are testing mega-bombs again, and we were recently treated to beefcake photos of a shirtless Vladimir Putin flashing his you-just-know-I've-killed-people smile). Skewed Visions has taken note of all of the above in resurrecting Stanley Kubrick's nuke-crazy Dr. Merkwürdigliebe, who never saw a mushroom cloud he didn't like. Before the action begins, though, the audience is taken to the basement of the empty casket factory that serves as a set, where one has to kneel and crawl to enter Sean Kelley-Pegg's installation (the effect feels something like an initiation, or an act of sinister rebirth). Moving through narrow corridors, the audience comes to a bank of screens, where anonymous surveillance videos chillingly depict scenes from anonymous everyday lives. Once one's sense of totalitarian privacy invasion is nice and stoked, it's off to a dimly lit room and a seat around a ramshackle version of the iconic war table from Kubrick's film. Here Charles Campbell transforms himself (he had previously acted as a macabre usher with a pasty face and white lab coat) into the wheelchair-bound, German-accented Strangelove (flashing the cockeyed grin that Peter Sellers adopted for the film role). Campbell enters into a tightly choreographed dialogue with a mouth that fills a video screen in the back of the room, with texts lifted from sources as diverse as the Strangelove script, Beckett, Walter Benjamin, a civil defense film, and the immortal speeches of Don Rumsfeld. It sounds like much harder work to watch than it is, primarily on the strength of Campbell's captivatingly unhinged performance and the imaginative marriage of the real and unreal (not to mention the unimaginable things that might come true). It's a work with no small share of disgust for the worst aspects of history recurring in our time, but it offers up its ideas with such electric energy that the experience provokes a singular, jarring sense of pleasure.

 
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