“Boring! It was boring!”

This was the closest I think I’ll ever get to a La Muette de Portici moment, when the audience’s reaction to a work of art explodes right then and there in the performance space. In the case of La Muette, it sparked a revolution among the southern provinces of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, leading to an independent Belgian nation.

In this case, “Boring!” was some lady’s premature, self-indulgent contribution to the Q&A following The Evening, a performance piece by Richard Maxwell/New York City Players commissioned by the Walker Art Center for its 2015 Out There series. Jeremy Cohen from the Playwrights’ Center was simply telling everyone to go pee before he started the chat with the artists and—ka-pow!—“Boring!”

I mean it’s always funny when an otherwise meticulously composed man with the word “director” in his job title gets knocked off-balance when he’s holding a mic in front of an audience. So at least there was that, I guess.

The Evening kicked off this year’s Out There series, and I suppose “deliberate” is the word to best describe the show in its entirety, largely because it describes every element of the show. Everything has a place, everything has a reason. This is not unusual. But here, nothing lards up the stage or the script to make the audience more comfortable by mimicking reality. Anything that would do so is removed.

The comfort of clutter and white noise is obliterated. The inconsequential chatter of everyday, largely meaningless speech is stripped of all emotion and inflection. “Uh” and “y’know” are performed literally, without directed clouds of metalinguistics surrounding them. The set is unadorned, like it-could-be-a-Fringe-show unadorned. The people behind me—who had super-expensive coats and talked about which restaurants they were going to go to in San Luis Obispo or something—remarked at how bare it was. It comes close to an experiment in sensory deprivation in its minimalism.

It’s an exercise in how the director utterly controls the art under his direction, and to describe the plot or the characters or the staging would be merely to catalog them for posterity. The Evening was as abstract as its central theme, and one does not use the same methodology to describe such a performance as one would use to describe Suddenly Last Summer. Even if someone doesn’t fully grasp the themes behind Suddenly Last Summer, one can still kick back and enjoy the words and the people and the lights and the noise, like babies staring at a steamy, alcoholic mobile.

This is not the case with The Evening.

For the first ten minutes, an occasional laugh would come from the audience, a meticulous laugh made by those who are either unsure how to interpret what’s going on or who are unwilling to put work into understanding it. These laughs are never appropriate or warranted, really, and they are always intrusive, always whining for attention. Sometimes they border on hostility. They’re frantic little maydays. I know no confident person who makes this laugh.

And at The Evening, if you didn’t want to do the work, there was no safety net. Because it’s Out There and that’s how Out There works.

I walked away from The Evening as I walk away from many Out There shows: I cannot say with any certainty that I understood the intent or the execution, at least not absolutely. The Evening triggered an internal discussion, and I can’t readily figure out a way to externalize it.

I mean, I cannot recite the plot or list the characters of this performance or any performance I’ve ever seen Out There. But I can name the times that I’ve seen something on the Walker’s stage that has placed before me something surprising or delightful or shocking in its creativity or craft. And interpretations of that class of art take a long, long time to incubate.

So maybe come back to me in, like, five years.

In the meantime, remember that Out There provides the Twin Cities performance community with an essential and unique source of inspiration. It’s not vertical inspiration; it isn’t simply a better version of something most of us already do. This is work by artists who take pieces of the world and stitch them together into objects it takes us some time and effort to recognize—it’s intended to knock us a couple of spots laterally. Out There injects some 99.9 percent pure, unadulterated l’art pour l’art into Minnesota’s veins every year.

And thank God for it.

So if I may respond to my fellow audience member from the Walker:

“Bitch, you’re in an art museum. Nothing here is boring.”


Stray observations

  • They filled the theater with smoke at the end. I was sort of amazed at how panicky I got, how utterly visceral the impulse was to run from a room filling with smoke. I also thought, “So this is how bees feel when we take their honey.”
  • • Dear people of Kenwood: Dial the cologne and perfume back a bit. Thank you. —The residents of every other neighborhood