By Yvan Greenberg / Laboratory Theater; Directed by Yvan Greenberg
Off Off Broadway, Multi-media Performance Art
Playing through 9.26.15
HERE, 145 6th Avenue
by Keith Paul Medelis on 9.17.15
Joe Joseph, Yvan Greenberg, and Oleg Dubson in Genet Porno. Photo by Paula Court.
BOTTOM LINE: Genet Porno is a meticulously constructed provocative piece that’s not for everyone. For those that it is—it's a truly profound and rewarding experience.
Before we really dig deep into this piece, a word about Jean Genet, a too often overlooked voice of the twentieth century. A gay man, son of a prostitute, a prostitute himself, and in and out of the foster care system in early 1900s France, Genet hardly had it easy. His books, poems, and plays have some deeply cynical, provocative stuff in them exploring ideas of power, manipulation, sex, and a good deal of “whats-the-point” existentialism.
It’s not a great leap then to find ourselves amongst Yvan Greenberg’s maddening Genet Porno. There’s all the makings of Genet’s turbulent life on this stage. And we’re constantly surrounded with queer smut of epic proportions that I’m sure Genet wishes he could make. As is suggested in the latter half of the play’s title, Greenberg has chosen to juxtapose his text, largely taken from from Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers with the text of porn “star” Damon Dogg. We’re given a piece that takes what I imagine are the events of the book and play them out on the set of a Terry Richardson-like porn set. And I have to say I found it intriguingly, numbingly, fantastic.
At the play’s start, Greenberg meets us for the most accosting curtain speech of all time, delivering the standard “turn off your cell phones” fare without a stitch of clothing. But he’s the worst host of all time, stopping to use the restroom (for real?) in the lobby of HERE right in the middle of the speech. We hear the whole thing via the sound design (also by Greenberg). There’s no better introduction to a piece with every intention to piss you off around every corner (pun intended.)
The summary is actually pretty brief. And dare I say universal. Girl (Oleg Dubson as Divine) meets guy (Joe Joseph as Darling Daintyfoot) and they fall madly in love. Guy is more interested in a one-time deal and girl longs for something more meaningful. Guy spreads his seed indiscriminately and girl becomes increasingly obsessed, jealous, and furious. Again, all played out of a porn set with extended sequences of some highly choreographed sex with massive, strap-on dildos waving about in perfect rhythm. At first it’s funny. Then it’s hot. Then it’s tedious. And finally it numbs your senses along with Divine’s failed attempts at finding love. This all plays out largely by prerecorded audio, variously lip-synced and spoken live.
Greenberg understands why he’s putting this on. He understands the great Grindr-generation of queer culture. Through his explorations with Genet and porn culture he accesses a deep and profound sadness of the irony of our increasing disconnection in an all too connected world. When my next chat is 1,129 feet away, 5’9”, 140 lbs., and a “twink” it’s hard to find the humanity in that. Genet Porno is a play for those that would like to reply to “what are you into?” with the phrase “love and acceptance” but instead reply “vers bttm” out of fear, loneliness, and isolation—right where I imagine Genet would have found himself were he alive in the twenty-first century.
That said, you shouldn’t see Genet Porno if you’re not fully ready to handle nudity, extended sexual simulations, and some increasingly hard core and frightening sexual simulations at that. Though you probably knew that from the title, others in the audience I was in seemed less clear, many leaving during the show.
But I’m here to defend this provocative work. If for nothing else than for a rather astounding lighting and projection design from Greenberg and Ayumu “Poe” Saegusa. Placing the projector low to the ground, the light emanates as if from some horrifyingly compulsive television set. And we’re never fully able to make out exactly what’s being projected though I believe I caught glimpses of porn, an eye, and flowers. You’ll perhaps see what you want to see in this Rorschach test of a design.
Greenberg, also in the play as porn director and actor Dogg, is effectively creepy and an entirely untrustworthy narrator. Joseph and Dubson make for a brave and convincing pair, Dubson especially endures a rather abusive performance that is to be commended.
Towards the end, more skin is bared, blindfolds and handcuffs worn, the only true pornography of the evening is seen on a computer screen, and we find ourselves descended into an extremely frightening place. Greenberg chooses this moment to interject his final curtain speech. Ass exposed, strap-on at full sail he says, “we’re a non-profit theater company and we accept donations” without skipping a beat, his voice barely wavering with emotion. You laugh because there’s nothing else to do. You feel dirty for participating in this snuff-film-like endeavor. Lights up. Still naked and chained, the actors take a pathetic bow. Exit. House lights up. You’ll perhaps freeze. Maybe you’ll run for the door. Climb the steps. Head out onto the streets. Breath. And return to your Grindr.
(Genet Porno plays at HERE, 145 6th Avenue, through September 28, 2015. Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at here.org or by calling 212.352.3101. There are free student rush tickets available when not sold out.)