Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Really, it's just a series of magic tricks: starting small, and then getting bigger and more amazing, till (metaphorically speaking) the Empire State Building is made to disappear by the end. It may help to have a very open mind, philosophically or rhetorically, especially to get through the event's third level, which requires considerable (humorous) mental acrobatics. I certainly didn't follow that part 100% of the time, but it was unquestionably very funny.
So, hypothetically, without revealing too much, let us suppose you are an artist. Let us further suppose you are a Chinese artist and a dissident, and let us add on top of that that you were imprisoned for two or three years, and once you're out, your dissident artwork and your fascinating story have landed you in the august pages of The New Yorker magazine. Simple enough, right?
But there is something jazzy and even devilish about the setting: the studio theater at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis has been transformed into an art gallery, and a kindly docent thoughtfully explains the meaning of some of the installations to us, by Lin Bo, the aforementioned dissident, before he makes an appearance. Mr. Bo seems anxious at first, though he fulfills all our expectations of a slightly madcap creator, whose work has included an "imaginary" protest in Beijing on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. This, understandably, is what sparked the interest of the authorities.
Anyway, everything flees unto madness after that, with the interrogations, and the interrogators, taking on unexpected guises. And we in the West become strangely complicit in what we may think of as the whole "Eastern browbeating syndrome," as the presentation goes on. The artist's visit is perfectly timed for our own political moment, where truth itself has been ripped to shreds.
There's a lot I'm not telling you, but it's a fabulously impetuous little show, with other people showing up, representing what we think about authority and also (in a non-artistic sense) "provenance" and the need to present something as purely authentic. It's all like a game of telephone, as art and meaning pass through one set of hands and into another, and all of us cringe collectively as the story is told: as we become more and more deeply invested in avoiding inauthenticity along the way. But sometimes, without even realizing it, the art in question may have subtly been compromised in the simple act of changing hands.
You're going to need a clear head for this one: Associate Artistic Director Seth Gordon has brought Mr. Bo in for this bracing local debut, with painstaking detail in triggering both laughter and tears-well, tears provoked by laughter. And though there's an intentional level of absurdity in some of the artistic handoffs, especially in the second level of the story, as we go deeper into the hell of post-modernism, we're swept up in the maze-like history of presentation itself, in this spectacular of the mind.
Through March 25, 2018, in the studio theater at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, 130 Edgar Road. St. Louis MO. For more information visit www.repstl.org.