Sometimes I love my job. It’s my great pleasure to direct you to Gob Squad’s Kitchen (You’ve Never Had It So Good), the first must-see of an unusually busy 2012.
A mesmerizing, intellectually rigorous, laugh-out-loud funny recreation of Andy Warhol films (including Kitchen), Gob Squad’s Kitchen is smart about a lot of things, but most importantly about the pitfalls of nostalgia. Unlike so many attempts to relive the heady days of The Factory and its amphetamine-fueled cadre of freaks and chics, the multi-national Gob Squad company doesn’t try to transplant the era into the present. They readily admit that the days of ’60s hedonism are long gone, but they capture the essence of what it meant to be making art at a time when anything went.
Audience members are allowed to tour the stage prior to the show, their only chance to see what lies behind the movie screen that hided the three sets on stage. From those three sets, a cast of four project simultaneous revisions of Warhol flicks, from Kitchen to Sleep to the Screen Test series. Giddy at the chance to play docent, Sean (played by Sean Patten) has the eager-beaver demeanor of an earnest grad student discussing his thesis work. Co-stars (and co-conspirators in this wink-wink, deadpan evocation) Sarah (Sarah Thom), Nina (Nina Tecklenburg) and Sharon (Sharon Smith), however, aren’t as interested in the intellectual underpinnings. Nina, in particular, with her sharp bob and German accent, is more focused on having a good time, something the uptight Sean can’t quite fathom. (He sometimes wonders what his mother would think while he has sex, he confides to us via black and white film.)
As the show progresses and motivations collide, the quartet throw up their hands and recast themselves with willing audience members, all of whom are treated respectfully and visibly relax, rising to the occasion. The inclusion of audience members is the perfect example of everything that Gob Squad does so effortlessly here: Both a subtle nod to Warhol’s notion of 15 minutes of fame and a reference to the quote from Velvet Underground’s chanteuse Nico that is quoted in the program (“If tomorrow I find somebody who is pretty much like me and I put her here to sing, she can be Nico while I go and do something else”), the concept is successful as both an exploration of Warhol’s theories and as sheer entertainment. Watching Sharon replace herself in Sleep (the infamous five-plus film of John Giorno sleeping) begins as an amusing experiment—one of us is projected onto that screen!—but morphs into something more interesting and even moving, as Sharon—who has Giuletta Messina’s down-turned clown face—gently grills her replacement about hopes and dreams, searching for some nugget of wisdom from her new self that she can apply to her own life.
Despite a concept of the highest order and its ambitious technical aspects, Gob Squad’s Kitchen is more than just a post-modern lark; Gob Squad is clearly too smart, too well-versed in both the actual era and its implications, to rest on the mere notion of entertainment. There’s real pathos amid the jokes and banter, and when the curtain comes down on a cast made up of audience members, back to their real selves but still projected in glamorous black and white, the idea of 15 minutes of fame is no longer an appalling one. In the generous, friendly atmosphere of Gob Squad’s Kitchen, fleeting fame is suddenly comforting.
Gob Squad’s Kitchen
Through Feb. 5, The Public, 425 Lafayette St. (betw. Astor Pl. & E. 4th St.),www.publictheater.org; $60–$70.
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