The Code of Western Returns
by Popular Request!
First Floor Theater
May 13 – 23, 2004
Thursday – Sunday 8:00pm and 2:30pm
Writer and Performer: Jim Neu
with Deborah Aver & Bill Rice Directer: Keith McDermott
Music: Harry Mann
Video Editing & Design:
Set Design: David Fritz
|To share one of its 2003-04 season's most successful
productions with a wider audience, La MaMa will bring back "Target Audience
(The Code of the Western)" by playwright/performer Jim Neu from May 13 to
23 in its First Floor Theater. During its debut run in The Club at La MaMa
September 18-28, critics agreed that the hour-long, dry, wry,circumlocutory
play tells the story of the West as it's never been told before. Keith McDermott
directs; music is by Harry Mann.
Jim Neu plays Dr. James Thorne, a guest speaker at the Saddleholster Film
Festival, where die-hard fans come to see old B-westerns one more time.
Dr. Thorne is a professor of "Situology," a new science that studies the
interface between the factual and the fictional. The Doctor begins in the
days when the Wild West was simultaneously current events and a new entertainment
form--the first pop culture. As the events faded, the entertainment form
continued to thrive, affecting behavior on both sides of the reality frontier.
Dr. Thorne's deep affection for his subject shows the charm of unconditional
cowboy love, as well as the potential menace.
Visual aids, made up of period stills and film clips, highlight the major
players, both real and imaginary (from Wild Bill Hickok and Jesse James
to John Wayne and Ronald Reagan). The multimedia portion of the show culminates
with excerpts from Hollywood's "Outlaws of the Desert" (1941), in which
The Wild West meets the Middle East.
Dr. Thorne is occasionally joined by his guitar-playing research assistant,
Ashley Nevada (Deborah Auer). They perform songs that amplify key scenes
of the evening. Bill Rice makes a special appearance as Harley Baker, the
host of the Saddleholster Film Festival.
The Village Voice (Tom Sellar) distilled Neu's message, writing "Producers
and writers arrived to claim the frontier not long after the settlers did,
inventing irresistible historical icons and legends for America with ever
loosening ties to historical fact. The result: a nation that absorbs its
history through B movies now happily inhabits 'islands of enriched reality.'
'A lot of what we went through never actually happened,' he observes, but
'it's hard to deny the evidence of your senses.'" Time Out (Simonson) added,
"when the speech closes with a clip from the ludicrous and unnerving "Outlaws
of the Desert," in which scenes of American gunslingers battling Arabs on
dunes play like a Bush-family home movie, you have to admit the man has
a solid point."
American Theater Web (Andy Propst) added, "From a historical perspective,
Neu's creation is fascinating to hear. His presence and delivery is so sure
that one accepts the facts he presents and conclusions that he draws as
faits accompli. What's most intriguing about his presentation, which Keith
McDermott has staged with quiet simplicity, is the range of thought that
it provokes. As Neu discusses how fiction can be packaged into fact, one
can't help but think about the existence or lack thereof of 'weapons of
mass destruction' in Iraq. Is our war an example of situology at work? Beyond
this, Neu's piece raises issues about 'reality' programming on television
and 'fictional' television such as 'Law and Order' where the show's tag
line is 'Ripped from the headlines.' Since seeing the piece, which runs
sadly through Sunday only, I have found myself returning to the concept
repeatedly and even watching the news in a slightly different (even more
jaded and cynical) way. For a theater piece that lasts only an hour, this
impact is extraordinary."
Time Out (Robert Simonson) wrote, "Jim Neu…may be the most unfairly uncelebrated
of downtown auteurs. Neu is as adept at twisting language and meaning as
Mac Wellman, has been as artistically consistent as Richard Foreman and
was cleaving his texts to disorienting songs long before Richard Maxwell
was old enough to drink."
Director Keith McDermott has directed four previous plays by Jim Neu, most
recently last season's "Kiss Shot." As an actor he's performed major roles
on Broadway as well as in the avant garde work of Robert Wilson and others.
As a director, he's staged both modern and classical plays.
Composer Harry Mann reveals his skill in a new genre with his music for
the country-western songs in "Target Audience." Mann has written music for
ten previous Neu plays. Video is by Charles Dennis, whose own performances
mixing video and choreography have been presented extensively in New York
and across the country. Sets are by David Fritz, who designed Neu's "Undercurrent
Incorporated" at La MaMa in 2000. Costumes are by Angela Wendt, who designed
Neu's "Kiss Shot" last season.