Day 5 of Gwen Bell’s December blogging challenge: Best Night Out '09
I’m sitting on an inflatable bed with a bunch of strangers. Some are blindfolded. We are eating stringy black seaweed from a pile in the center of the bed that a dancer has recently been wearing on her head enclosed in an amorphous turban. The dancer, in spiked heels, black ribbon, and little else, has taken off the turban, simulated birthing it, unwrapped the seaweed, and placed it ceremoniously on the bed, nibbling it a bit before pulling people out of their seats to join her feast.
I had no idea that this would happen tonight, and as it’s happening I’m thinking to myself, ‘I feel oddly comfortable.’ The salty seaweed tastes good, the moaning, angsty, seemingly endless song the rock musicians are playing is relaxing.
Earlier in the night I was with my husband and his family from out of town. My husband’s aunt and his fresh faced blond haired, blue-eyed 18-year-old cousin are from North Dakota, now living in Florida. This is their first time visiting New York City. They have crammed into the front room of our tiny one bedroom tenement apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan for… five nights. Exhale. Yes, five.
They are excellent house guests: kind, excited to be here, and not at all put off by our humble accommodations via another inflatable mattress and an over-sized chaise. An iphone minimizes the amount of hand-holding they need in order to maneuver around the city.
But the cousin wants to explore New York: the T.V. Show. She makes a pilgrimage to the Seinfeld restaurant, then to Carrie’s stoop from Sex in the City. I can’t get her to pay attention to our neighborhood, the East Village, until I mention the Life Café from Rent. Its not her fault. New York is a living t.v. and movie set. But the movies and t.v. shows never quite capture the city's raw, living heart. Spontaneous strangeness is what I love most about the city.
So this is what happens. We go out to dinner on Clinton Street, Frankie’s 17. My husband’s aunt requests the plainest thing on the menu, linguine with garlic and oil. She loves it. I taste it. Its delicious. We leave full and happy.
Next-door is the new home of the Living Theatre, a downtown institution. We gawk at people wearing flat, Dali-esque masks sitting by the theater door. They hand us flyers that read: Come right now to Naked Man’s Naked July with optional naked audience members. All Free!
Before anyone has a chance to think, I pull them down a narrow flight of stairs into the black box theater. Disappointingly, no one is actually naked. There is a rock band, a chanteuse type singer moaning into a mike, and lots of projections on the walls that profess to be about filtering reality, the way things get filtered through the television news, how we see things in a commodified way, how we are told to see them.
The audience and the stage are evenly lit. Projections wrap 365 degrees around the space. There is no real off stage. Audience members roll into the playing space and start to dance. A camera person films the audience in their chairs from the center of the space.
My husband’s family is uncomfortable. They fidget. They look bewildered, then frustrated. The performance goes on. People start to leave, and in a fit of boldness the family stands up and rushes out through the curtained door, projections rippling in their wake. Its a dramatic exit. There is no other choice.
I stay. My husband will take care of them. The performance ends when everyone in the audience has walked out or is sitting on the bed full of seaweed. Somehow this feels like home.