Entering the performance art gallery ROOMS prior to the showing of its new play, “Bird Dog Sedition,” you are immediately struck by the sense of solemnity. Beneath the dim bluish lighting, a half-circle of wooden folding chairs faces a small open space, in the center of which a blindfolded woman stands statuesque atop a pedestal. Quotes from noted philosophers and writers such as Orwell, Nietzsche, and Baudrillard adorn the walls; their political and religious convictions echo silently along with more audible, ominous music. Like a church sanctuary before service begins, the atmosphere evokes a feeling of reverence.
This resemblance is not accidental, since spirituality is a central theme in “Bird Dog Sedition.” Written and directed by Todd Frugia, the play explores the relationship between actor and audience, as well as commenting on global politics and personal belief. On the program, Frugia explains, “As the play took shape I realized some pretty strong themes were unintentionally manifesting–themes I could never purposefully take on with any satisfaction.” Thus, instead of directly addressing matters of faith, purpose, and idealism, the play uses stories and monologues to project a smattering of thoughts on each.
What emerges is not entirely coherent; nor is it intended to be. The play seems designed to fulfill its first spoken statement: “She is dangerous.” “She” is an actress, specifically Stephanie Schnorbus, the woman on the pedestal. Her elevated status and rehearsed recitations are a critique of acting itself, both onstage and off. The work also allows the playwright to voice opinions that may or may not be sincerely his own, giving audience members the chance to decide how seriously they want to take them.
“Bird Dog Sedition” intentionally blurs the line between person and performer. Both Schnorbus and Marrakesh Frugia play characters of the same respective name, and they refer constantly to the scripted nature of their words and actions, intentionally muddying the distinction between the character and actor. Despite this, you know Marrakesh is telling a personal truth when she describes the many nights spent in rehearsal or her hope that we will enjoy the performance.
Such contradictions have great interest for Frugia. “Acting should be like a sport,” he says. “It’s a skill that has to be practiced, but there should also be a ‘wow’ factor–that ability to be in the midst of a deep emotion, and then suddenly switch.”
Those abrupt shifts in mood and character are common throughout the play. Schnorbus and Marrakesh each take their turns standing on the pedestal as the caricature of an actor, while the other directs her and talks to the audience. Bursts of righteous anger may be followed by long moments of awkward silence, which may in turn be broken by the yet more uncomfortable sound of heavy breathing. To predict or prepare oneself for the next move is impossible.
“They’re kind of preaching,” Frugia says of the many roles adopted by the actresses. “But they’re using different methods of preaching. There’s the insightful one, the calm one, the self-help guru–and they all have a goal.”
Though their particular goals may be different, they all share a desire to disrupt the lives of the audience. This may be accomplished simply by, as one character says, “planting a seed” of a new idea. In the words of Sam Shepard, as Frugia quotes him, “Plays don’t come from ideas; ideas come from plays.”
Those ideas may be political, as when an actress dons a blindfold or hood in an allusion to Abu Ghraib prisoners. Others, like the questions of faith and forgiveness, are intensely personal. Either way, “Bird Dog Sedition” challenges viewers to respond to its salvos–perhaps only for its duration, but possibly in their daily lives.
“Bird Dog Sedition,” ROOMS Productions, 645 W. 18th St. Through January 26. Friday-Saturday, 7:30pm and 9pm. 312-733-1356.