Les Enfants Terribles: Stimulated! | Live review
“All Americans [know] today is that they’re still unemployed, they’re still worried about how they’re going to pay their bills at the end of the month and their kids still can’t get a job.”—Drew Westen, professor of psychology at Emory University, for The New York Times, August 6, 2011
“In these hard times, I’ve determined that an alien invasion of Earth would not represent a good return on investment.”—Roger Ebert, on Twitter, August 7, 2011
“If you even pretend to care about the concerns of outsiders (women, gays, poor folk) like Gore pretends to care about them, then you’ll understand that it’s your duty to choke back your bile and vote Democrat. As for those pesky ‘vote-your-conscience’ arguments: Do what you must, but please ruminate on the selective—and yes, political—implementation of your conscience next time you step over a homeless person on your way to retrieve take-out sushi. But there’s no need to get ourselves worked into a lather: Whatever happens, this country’s going to get the president it deserves.”—David Schmader, The Stranger, November 2, 2000
“Why so serious?”—Heath Ledger as the Joker, The Dark Knight, 2008
If you don’t recognize yourself at least once during the brief duration of Stimulated!, a nearly wordless performance devised by Les Enfants Terribles, closing tonight (7:30pm; $10) at New York International Fringe Festival in a few days, isn’t at times reductive, casting its audience and, by extension, most middle-class Americans, as myopic, self-interested buffoons, whores out for a good buzz and/or another rung up the ladder., then you’re either oblivious or you’re a saint. Not that the sextet’s hourlong show, which goes on to the
But at other times, these six filthy, grotesque, lumpy, “naked” characters (extraordinarily realized by Casey Kells, Alex Kyger, Amanda Beth Miller, Scott Ray Merchant, Christopher Paul Mueller and Eric Ryan Swanson, who wear putty-colored bodysuits filled with inorganically shaped tumors) don’t seem reductive at all. They seem rather painfully accurate reflections, the raw truth under unflattering lighting, instead of the selves we’re more frequently shown, in candlelight and mirrors smeared with the Vaseline of target marketing and/or the haze of a few drinks, too much coffee, maybe harder stuff, and likes on our statuses. (Dislikes, remember, aren’t provided as an option.)
Take the tour de force montage in the show’s middle, which begins with a bit about cigarettes, when clown-faced Kells pulls a pack of Marlboro Lights from behind one of his hard-nippled, Baywatch boobs and ends in an orgy of sex and death, fueled by the sequential introduction of weed, coke, smack and pills: It’s at once the same narrative forced down my throat more than 20 years ago in D.A.R.E. classes, and an eerily concise, condensed replay of the lives of some real people, some close, who too quickly went from party animals to statistics.
Similarly, a fantasia about the public’s obsession with Apple products would be groan-inducing were it not for the hard facts: With $76 billion in reserves, iDaddy famously now has more cash in the bank than Uncle Sam. Les Enfants’ The Gods Must Be Crazy worship of iPad mock-ups (with a pair of cherries on their backsides in lieu of the ubiquitous, bitten logo) becomes even more fanatic once version “twooo-point-ohhh!” appears.
The funniest, tightest scene in a very funny, very tight show is Les Enfants’ depiction of the workplace. (It’s also the seed from which the internal logic of all of the other scenes stems.) An assembly-line hierarchy of prole, supervisor, manager and executive—and a fifth character who does nothing but pace back and forth behind them—moves a stack of pages. Each character up the ladder contributes less, and more transparently prioritizes his or her own immediate satisfaction. It doesn’t last long and is drawn in just a handful of sounds, gestures and facial expressions, and especially in the nuances of their deliveries. But it speaks volumes.
Les Enfants Terribles’ Stimulated! closes August 8 at Strawdog Theatre Company.