Student Dan Hall reacts to Rodrigo Toscano’s recent BathHouse reading:
First off, the venue was terrible. What was supposed to be an intimate setting at the Dreamland Theater was, in reality, about a hundred people (who really didn’t want to be there) crammed into a space the size of my living room. Now I suppose this crowd was unexpected and can hardly be blamed on the players, so I’ll just get right to the performance.
I do my best not to dump on something just because I don’t like it or I don’t understand it. That said, I didn’t like it and I didn’t understand it. We spent a good deal of class time discussing the inaccessibility of Tuscano’s work, whether or not it’s intentional, whether or not it’s elitist and whether or not he should be criticized for it. For me, at least the first two are true. I personally experience his work as a random splattering of words that sound funny (like “wa wa” and “Shinolah”) and international political allusions that I could never pick up on, no matter how much Daily Show and Colbert Report I watch. So really, it all just comes out as gibberish. When I read his book, Collapsible Poetics Theater, I kept thinking that there must be something in here that I’m missing, that I’ll understand when I see it performed. There wasn’t.
The first performance was of “Traux Inimical” (parts 1-3). It was comprised of four players sitting at a table, facing the audience and was given like one of those bad, four-person slam poems, where everyone takes turns saying a word or phrase and some are said all together for emphasis. It was the longest half-hour of my life, mostly because I didn’t get it. From what I could tell it was about our dependence on technology. I thought all four players, including Tuscano, did a great job of trying to make their lines as humorous and interesting as possible. But without any comprehendible content, it just wasn’t enough. There was just nothing to hold onto, mentally, and after awhile, it all just became white noise.
The second performance was worse. It was like a silent movie in slow motion, minus the cheery piano and the funny captions. “Spine” was just three players moving around the stage, speaking nonsense and doing things that made no sense (like trying to eat a ladder with a knife and fork). Again, I didn’t get it. I assume it was a commentary on consumerism, but who knows?
The third performance was kind of a relief. This time they were back to the table with only two players for “Balm To Bilk”. This piece contained more humorous phrases. And it seemed to be about language barriers, so at this point, the audience could relate. At one point, Tuscano himself proclaimed “poetry for the movement? this shit?”, and the crowd went nuts in agreement.
Okay, so I didn’t like the reading, boo-hoo, right? But as much as I hated it, I guess the point is not to rail the artist, but simply to realize that this isn’t for me. Like all artists, Tuscano is just doing his own thing. And he has the right to do it. And hell, if he can find people to support him and maybe throw some money his way, more power to him. It’s not like he’s promoting hate or begging on the street. So if I don’t like it, I don’t have to support it. And that’s what we all need to realize as people. As long as something isn’t negative or being forced upon us, we need to respect each other’s right to be ourselves. That’s something both fundamental and profound. And so, I guess I did get something out of this reading after all.