nytheatre.com review by Robin Reed
January 13, 2008
The gimmick is set up as the show is beginning: the machine they've devised "captures responses from the audience and turns them into electric discharges into the actor's body. Please turn off your cell phones."
Michel Melamed enters, dressed in black clothes that walk an odd line between high couture and the discarded gear of some strange brethren of monks. He is instantly likeable even with the severe intensity coursing across his face. He is adorned with strange jewelry. On his wrists and ankles he wears metal clamps, onto which he attaches cables akin to those with which you would jump-start a car. These cables are attached to boxes that are attached to pulleys that run up to the grid. I looked, but couldn't quite tell if they were plugged in or not.
That was my first question: is he for real? He started speaking and the first time anyone in the audience made a peep, be it a laugh or a cough, a bare bulb upstage left lit up and Melamed twitched from the charge that supposedly surged forth into his wrists and ankles.
He speaks in word associations and touches on World Politics (including the state of his native Brazil, torture, fascism, and George Bush), television, cultural consumption. I like him. I keep my mouth shut. I have to cough and go out of my way to do so into my shoulder so as to avoid getting him shocked. The shock aspect paints Melamed into a proverbial corner as a performer: if the audience likes you, they're not going to respond. He's working double-time to see if he's making contact. Are his words falling on deaf ears, or does the audience collectively yet silently vow to zip their lips?
The truth comes when Melamed drops it all and says very plainly to us, "Do you think the shock is fake?"
This was the most interesting part of the show for me. Before this moment of audience participation, everything is a way-too-elaborate way to make the over-arching point that everything is connected and that, as Melamed says throughout the piece, everything is a metaphor for life. Asking someone to come on stage and test him opens the whole room up to discussion.
The man who volunteered the night I saw the show seemed as if he had been waiting for the moment to prove Melamed a fraud since the lights went down. En route to the stage, he spouted off a comment about having a heart condition and if anything happened to him he would "sue the shit out of the Public Theater" (yes, that's a direct quote).
A burst of unification rushed through the audience. Don't go up there, Mr. Heart Condition. Everyone seemed to agree. One girl agreed so much that she took his place. Up on stage, connected to the cable, she assured us that she did indeed get a shock when we made noise.
Ultimately, do the points that "everything is connected" and "everything is a metaphor for life" need to be made? I get it. Everything I do has a direct or indirect effect on those around me. I don't need to watch an actor get mildly electrocuted for the better part of an hour to clue me in to this. And frankly, considering how much torture is or isn't (or IS) happening right now to people against their wishes (and the Constitution and any code of Ethics or Morality civilized societies live by), I found this to be a distasteful way to prove that point.
What Regurgitophagy did do for me, however, was make me long for the 1970s, '80s, and early '90s Art Scene in New York that no longer exists. Where a man can build a machine and shock the hell out of himself in the name of Performance Art and astound his audience rather than fill them with disdain.