nytheatre.com review by Adam R. Burnett
December 3, 2012
Van Cougar’s production Gonna See a Movie Called Gunga Din at the Bushwick Starr last spring was one of my favorite theatre works of 2012, so I was incredibly eager to see their latest piece, TUBE, currently playing at the Incubator Arts.
The production opens up with the enthusiastic and constantly engrossing performers—Martin Brown, Lucy Kaminsky, Derek Loehr, Sam Soghor, and Samuel Traylor—asking the audience which YouTube videos we would like to watch. The audience chooses “Jessica’s Daily Affirmation.” After watching the actor’s recreate the video, we’re asked if we want to watch again. And again.
At the performance I attended, we watched “Jessica’s Daily Affirmation” three times in a row.
The dexterous actors perform video after video, interspersed with first-person narratives of YouTube celebrities, music videos, and an autotune medley. This may seem gimmicky—and no doubt, it certainly is—but in the capable hands of director Mark Sitko it somehow works, even though it really shouldn’t. What Van Cougar achieves is earnestness, laughter coming from the heart and the gut, transforming an event that could be esoteric and crafting it for the peak of entertainment (this was also true of Gunga Din).
The performers are relentlessly skillful and showcase their pliability throughout. And the gorgeous ethereal sounds of musician/singer/composer Alaina Ferris make the experience truly special.
What TUBE achieves immediately is the sensation of the private experience being resituated in a public forum. We laugh longer and harder at videos we have seen a dozen times in the context of an audience because our guilty pleasures are out in the open and presented without any judgment. It would have been an easier and more predictable route for Sitko to poke fun at the Youtube platform, but instead, we are presented with an overwhelming world of potential for sharing the most private of stories in the public.
However, as fun as the evening is, it does not take long for the feeling of empty-calorie ingestion to set it. Van Cougar’s previous works reach a transcendent moment, a plateau or an energetic break through where the piece takes a hold of itself, a willing of gravity, something beyond the controlled environment. TUBE never transcends the initial sensation, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor for a company who is investigating its mission statement with more serious warmth and good nature than most.