Being There: Red Bastard

Feature in Issue 21-1 | Spring 2009

Three points of view on Eric Davis’ Red Bastard, at the Metro Bosco Theatre, The Secret Garden, Dublin Fringe 2008.

It is my job as a bouffon to liberate the energy in the room. That’s what I do – come hell or high water. As I press slowly onto the stage through the musty curtain of the wooden Bosco tent, my jaws clench and I assume the tension of a trapped animal with a Machiavellian smile. The audience assumes they will be entertained, yet my body language makes them wonder, “Am I in danger?” A web of tension spreads throughout the tent. At the edge of my skin are hundreds of invisible fingers… feelers… filchers. Ha ha! Pluck-Pluck-Plucking. I am feeling for the potential energy of the audience – as individuals and as a whole.

Tonight I find three: The One Who Will Not Stop Laughing. The One Who Is Thrown Out. And The One Who Will Not Be Thrown Out.

The One Who Will Not Stop Laughing is nearly insane. He laughs at everything I do. Everything. I stop the show and wait for him to stop laughing. It takes about three minutes. The tension of him needing to stop makes him laugh more.

The One Who Is Thrown Out has tried to give me a heckling zinger. He is enjoying himself, but is awkward like a clown. I take him by the scruff, as you do a kitten – between the thumb and forefinger – and remove him from the tent. Nervous laughter from the audience. Then a thick, silent tension. I roar out, “Who will fuck with me now?” The audience howls.

The One Who Will Not Leave has two beaming moons for eyes. I tell her she’s having too much fun and she must go! She refuses. I insistently demand and we begin a ballet of removal as she grafts her hands to her wooden bench seat, until we are spread diagonally in mid-air in one long line of opposing wills. Everyone is abuzz. The woman, the audience and myself.

She stays. It is no use.
We love each other too much.

Eric Davis
www.redbastard.com

Entering the packed Bosco Theatre, we feel churlish at displacing the people sitting in our reserved seats. How they will smirk when they see what happens to us. When the Red Bastard appears, there is an immediate gasp-grimace from the audience which – along with laughter – will be the predominant response.

What is this creature? Half superhero, half circus freak, he spider-steps across the stage, elegantly carrying his grotesquely bulbous costume. Having encountered bouffon though a myriad textbooks and performative references, I still find my jaw dropping at the audacious reality. Exaggerated, huge, repetitive, and driven by archetypes, the Red Bastard is like a walking tabloid headline: ‘Sex! Danger! Outrage!’, the performance screams. The crucial difference is the goal of this extremity: to subvert, rather than reaffirm, commonly-held beliefs. There is no escape from participation, except for Carlo, an audience member who is judged unenthusiastic, and summarily ejected. Others are subsequently tested, as the Bastard climbs over us, sits on us, and demands that we join in the ‘class’. This includes an episode where I am told to “Sing!” (a screechy version of an actor’s voice warm-up). “Very good, now sing into my mouth. Good, now sing with your tongue.”

Invasion is a theme of the show, and evasion impossible, especially when the entire audience is told to pose for a picture, then photographed again, and again, and again. Though I leave the theatre not completely sure which of my assumptions have been challenged, the experience as a whole is powerful and lingering. “I’ll be back!” yells the comic-book villain as the cops drag him away. So, I expect, will moments of this experience.

Cassie Werber
writer /independent theatre-maker

Premiering an artist abroad, particularly one who is comic, is always nerve-wracking. The question of whether material will ‘land’, whether cultural references will be appreciated, and whether audiences will warm to your performers, a producer can only guess at until the performances actually begin.

So it was, with my breath appropriately bated, that I entered the Bosco tent to watch Eric Davis as Red Bastard take on a slightly liquored up, Saturday-night Dublin audience. I was hopeful, as the numbers were strong, and more people (and a bit of liquor) are always good for comedy.

From the first beat, Red Bastard demands audience interaction. Whether they must count backwards from ten or swap seats on cue, the Bastard is teaching a class and doesn’t suffer unwilling students gladly. Tonight, he kicked someone out in the first five minutes, escorting him to the door and telling him not to return.

Bold choices like this immediately shock and sometimes genuinely upset some audience members. Tonight, another patron was obsessed with the expelled ‘student’ and kept shouting out to let him back in. Of course, this provided another opportunity for the Bastard to improvise, posture, and rile up the audience.

As for me, I knew it was already in the bag. When your average comedian gets a heckler it can go either way, when the Red Bastard gets one, things are going well. The audience is ready to play. Once that happens, I can feel the applause and standing ovation coming.

Exhale.

Paul Lucas
producer www.paullucasproductions.com

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Issue 21-1
p. 12