Theater Spotlight: TV Men


Nimbus; at Intermedia Arts through May 25

TV Men purports to be about the distorting lens of celebrity filtered through the boob tube, but a double irony quickly emerges: None of the seven famous or mythic figures depicted owed their notoriety to the video age, and the work is based firmly in the text of plays, letters, and testimony. So we have a work all about juxtapositions, though you'll find yourself hard-pressed to locate any central theme. The action opens with Catherine the Great (Caitlin Hammel), depicted as an imperious film star slumming in the world of television. Next we have Tupac Amaru II (Ernest Briggs), the indigenous Peruvian revolutionary transposed to the TV age (his semi-long speech in defense of his powerless people is subsequently edited to make him sound like a raving lunatic, and a panel of talking heads ponders whether he should be drawn and quartered immediately or after a speedy trial). A long sequence follows in which English writer and enthusiastic lover Vita Sackville-West (Kari Hammer) canoodles with her lover Violet (Hammel) and indulges in a bit of gender bending in New York. At this point, you may well be looking for a signpost on the road to coherence. Instead we have a proxy for Salvation Army founder William Booth (Jeremy S. Wendt) plopped into the world of a contemporary televangelist (Mitchell Frazier); lofty Christian ideals of helping the poor, we learn, make for bad TV. From here we have a digression into the story of Salome (Ariel Pinkerton) dancing for John the Baptist's head, placed at arm's length by turning it into a TV filming (when Salome finally prevails, she cradles a TV in her arms, an image of the dead holy man's face flickering on the screen). This company-created work, directed by Josh Cragun, brims with ideas that seem to be conceptually held together with chicken wire and duct tape. Still, each element of the show taken on its own terms provides a nice little charge of brain sizzle. You might come away with unexpected linkages between history and art (a sequence involving Langston Hughes testifying before Joseph McCarthy has a nice election-year resonance). Or, like me, you might walk out feeling as though there may well have been no particular point to miss.