Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Masterpee Theatre

All these mentions of Joyce, here and recently over on Miss Templeton’s site, got me to thinking about the times I have seen people urinate on stage.

In an artistic way, of course.

Way back in the early 80’s, my girlfriend of the moment and I were taking in the sights of New York City on a warm and lovely day. As we turned a corner, we noticed an adboard that was trumpeting the merits of an adaptation of Ulysses by a small theater troupe. The idea was that this limited company of 3 or 4 actors would present a sort of “digest” dramatization of the novel, frequently and frantically switching roles throughout.

Now I was intrigued, obviously, and I soon conned, that is, convinced my girlfriend that it was worth a look. We’d luckily arrived just as another show was about to start, so we quickly entered the cavernous space and found a couple of seats. The venue appeared to be the inside of a large former warehouse, with seats scattered around the non-descript performance area.

The show promptly commenced and you had to immediately admire the skill with which this group had managed to condense the events of that infamous day in 1904, especially without the aid of any backdrops or props. We galloped quickly through Stephen Dedalus’s opening section, and then it was on to Bloom frying his kidney as his wife made mewling sounds from the bedroom.

All the time the actors were changing identities. Buck Mulligan became Bloom became Blazes Boylan, a kind of appropriate metempsychosis considering the novel in question.

At long last, when we came to the arrival of Stephen and Bloom at 7 Eccles Street it was time for the pair to urinate outside the house. Well, I thought, no doubt they’ll be cleverly pantomiming this.

But no. All of a sudden the show became very literal indeed, as the two actors proceeded to produce two yellow arcs of dancing water with their backs turned to the audience. No offending appendages were on view, but it was nonetheless quite clear what was producing this particularly convincing special effect.

It hadn’t occurred to me that they would do that, but in the end it seemed entirely appropriate, even sacramental. It was not to be my last encounter with the theatrical use of the euphemistically entitled “Number One,” however.

This time it was less surprising, as we had gone to see sex worker/monologuist/performance artist and former porn star Annie Sprinkle. Indeed, each of the programs came with a condom attached.

During the course of her intriguing show, she demonstrated the correct use of a speculum and then invited audience members to come up and take a peek at her uterus. Many did, although I busied myself with the playbill.

Before this took place, however, Annie needed to void her bladder and so we were witnesses to this procedure in all of its natural splendor (hence the familiar doggerel heard around our house ever since, “Annie Sprinkle, watch her tinkle”). It was very similar to what I was used to experiencing on a daily basis, if a little harder to make out. Certainly the familiar sounds of micturation were present to assure us of the artist’s intentions.

Of course everyone’s heard of Andy Warhol’s “oxidation” paintings, which sported unique designs created by people having relieved themselves on them, and there’s Andres Serrano’s notorious Piss Christ, a photograph of an image of Christ submerged in urine.

When I first saw it, I think my mind traveled back to that performance of Ulysses that day. Something about the conflation of the holy and the human, the spiritual and the mundane.

At any rate, it’s obviously a medium whose potential has only begun to be explored. Let future generations look back and honor the place where this generation began to inscribe its name in the snow of artistic creation.

Ask not for whom the bowl swells…it swells for thee.


Blogger Miss Templeton said...

YOu have to admire these actors' abilities to perform that part of the role on command each night. I envision bottles and bottles of water backstage. Or perhaps pictures of Niagra Falls in the dressing room.

Saturday, December 17, 2005 8:18:00 AM  
Blogger Count Screwloose said...

There's little anyone can do to assist you, either, short of turning on the tap water. And that would take you right out of the show.


Monday, December 19, 2005 1:25:00 AM  

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