Less glamorous than youth and less revered than old age, the middle age years are often overlooked. For some, it is a contradictory time: interminable and fleeting, depressing and invigorating.
For the British-German performance collective Gob Squad, who are now in their middle age years, they are facing it head on and cracking some jokes along the way.
“Creation (Pictures for Dorian)” is the latest piece of witty, improvisatory video-art theater from the self-described “seven headed monster” troupe, who has performed together for a quarter of a century.
This weekend, they are back at REDCAT — where they previously presented “Western Society,” “Super Night Shot” and “Kitchen” — with this U.S. premiere co-presented with Center Theatre Group.
Drawing inspiration from Oscar Wilde’s ageless tale about refusing to age, the focus here is less on Dorian’s hedonism and its consequences, and more on the passage of time and the complex relationship between artist, artwork and viewer.
To tell their jam-packed, hyper-conceptual, nonlinear, non-narrative art story, Gob Squad uses locally sourced material, namely six Los Angeles actors. The average age of three of the actors is 22. The average age of the other three L.A. actors is 80. Three Gob Squad members with an average age of 49 — Sarah Thom, Bastian Trost and Sean Patten on Thursday night — complete the cast of nine.
They’re three sets of three representing three phases of life; triangular and triadic relationships are a recurring theme.
“It gets you out of binary thinking,” Patten remarked as he and Thom rattled off a list of things that come in threes:
“Past, present, future.”
“Father, Son, Holy Ghost.”
“Gin, tonic, ice?”
Snappy, dry British humor and quippy banter propels Gob Squad’s sometimes self-indulgent but always visually and aesthetically engaging exploration of art theory, the human experience of aging and the desire — especially by actors such as themselves — to be seen.
If “Creation” sounds like navel-gazing art-theater made by art-theater people for an art-theater audience, that’s because it is. But humor and unexpectedly honest personal revelations from each of the nine participants transform heady theoretical and philosophical explorations into relatable, entertaining, strikingly human theater.
Throughout 90 well-executed minutes, Thom, Bastien and Patten primarily play the role of artists-creators. Sparse pastel costumes, floral arrangements, picture frames and mirrors are the only props. For material, they look to the three young and three older actors, using their bodies and talents to create still life and portrait “paintings,” sculptures, performance art, storytelling and, as they call it, “one of those long video pieces you see in a museum that loops and you can’t tell if it has a beginning or an end.”
As we watch them create (and discuss and dissect the process of creation), universal truths about youth and aging reveal themselves effortlessly. Seemingly off-hand comments give us insight into the details of each actor’s real life: “My son just moved out of the house.” “My mother died last year.” “When I recovered from my prescription pill addiction, I got married again.”
Nic Prior, a young actor and performance artist, dreams about what middle age might be like. Prior pictures success, maybe a MacArthur genius award, a loving partner and children, and enough money to fund art projects, airy lofts and billowy denim fashion ensembles. The youthful optimism is tangible.
One of the older actors, Dan Guerrero, spends most of his time on stage dancing and performing beloved routines from glory days gone by. If you missed one of the best performances of his life –– singing “Soon It’s Gonna Rain” in a 1964 production of “The Fantasticks” in Saratoga Springs –– you can catch a reprisal here. And this iteration might be even better than the first.
In the end, nine actors asks us to look at them, to applaud them, to see them and admire them. None do this more poignantly than Thom, who strips off her stage clothes and puts her naked body on full display.
It’s a cliché, she says, a theatrical trope. In fact, she’s been naked on this very stage before.
Earlier in the night, Thom noted that as a middle-aged woman in society, she often feels invisible, disappearing.
But as she casually lifts up her left breast and tucks her mike pack under it for safekeeping, she reminds us that whatever the gaze –– male, feminist, artist, viewer –– the middle aged female body is not to be ignored.
But now we’re all looking. She will never be invisible again. No matter their age, everyone has a story to tell.
Gob Squad: “Creation (Pictures For Dorian)”
Where: REDCAT, 631 W 2nd St., Los Angeles.
When: Oct.19-20, 8:30 p.m., Oct. 21, 7:00 p.m.