'Gob Squad's Kitchen': 15 minutes of fame, one show at a time

Having watched an advance video, I had a pretty good idea of what the Gob Squad was bringing to the Walker Art Center for Out There 2011. But as is usually the case for a theatrical experience on video, the reality was something much more than what was recorded.

This is somewhat ironic, as the piece, Kitchen (You've Never Had It So Good), is presented as a series of recreations of Andy Warhol films, and nearly all of the action is shown on a giant video screen that hangs at the front of the stage. The actors are behind the screen, acting in front of a (mostly) fixed camera, recreating a trio of Warhol projects: Kitchen, Screen Test, and Sleep.

That they are there, acting live, is no secret. In fact, the audience is guided backstage at the show's beginning to see the duct-taped video equipment, feel the hot studio lights, and see the chair, kitchen set, and bed used later in the evening.

The piece itself isn't as much a recreation of the obscure film but a meditation on the influence it--and the rest of the 1960s counterculture--have had in the decades since Warhol and his Factory friends decided to make art in their own image. So instead of trying become Warhol or Edie Sedgwick or any of the other denizens of the Factory, they are instead themselves playing themselves in the film.

In and of itself, this action is a lot of fun. The actors are well aware of the absurdity of it all, but go for it with full gusto. The company, a British and German collective, play at their idea of what Americans of the era would be like, drinking instant "kwa-fee," burning a bra (bought from Target, actor Sharon Smith admits), and trying on different personas along the way.

All this time, the barriers between the audience and the performers are broken down, as the cast selects people to first take part in the side films and then to take their places on the stage. Audience participation is nothing new, but there's something startling about plucking someone out of the crowd, giving them a set of headphones (so the actor they are replacing can feed them lines and stage directions), and setting them off on the set.The actors then head out to take seats in the house, so you can hear them whispering lines and directions a moment before they are said onstage.

It's the perfect embodiment of Warhol's pop-art aesthetic, making regular members of the audience stars for their own "15 minutes" at the Walker. All of this heightens the feeling that anything could happen--one of the rarest reactions you'll ever feel at a scripted theatrical event.

In the end, Gob Squad's Kitchen reminded me of the late, very lamented Theatre de la Jeune Lune. Like that ensemble, the Gob Squad love to play with the very forms of theater itself and recraft it into something rare, thrilling, and beautiful. Gob Squad's Kitchen (You've Never Had It So Good) continues today and Saturday.

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