CITY PAGES, September 2006
The Believers begins with an unnamed bearded man (Ben Kreilkamp) sitting in the dark at a desk. He flips on a lamp, stares into the void of the audience, then flips it off again. By the time he's done, he's turned the light on and off about a dozen times. It seems like a throwaway gag, but little is done without intent in writer/director Jim Bovino's new abstract performance piece by Flaneur Productions. In this case, Kreilkamp's flip-switching represents an initiation from darkness (spiritual, intellectual) into illumination—a metaphor that may serve for the piece as a whole. The six-person cast proceeds to tackle 15 vignettes that deal with, in rough order: the yearning for transcendence in myths about the past, our reality as mediated by movies, the secret stores of symbolic information hidden within every city, and the dead end of our socially constructed identities. There's a skeletal plot that filters in and out, with a glamorously acid secret-agent type (Barbara Meyer), who dispenses cryptic quips to a priest (Jeff Broitman) and a befuddled young man (Don Mabley-Allen). Kreilkamp returns again and again to address the audience, until eventually we begin to gather that the one-two punch of his oration and the disorienting action represents what Kreilkamp's character calls an "education in objective insight." Bovino is working with heady and philosophically charged material here, and he deftly steers the ship around from metaphysics and allegory to social commentary. Still, the show's discrete elements resist being fused together. And despite the skilled and enthusiastic performances, one feels as though The Believers has taken a shot at a lofty vision and fallen short. The view from the heights is always so tempting, though.
THE STRONG AND CAPABLE SHOULDERS OF THE STUDENT WHEN HE DREAMS
CITY PAGES, December 2005 - Best in Theatre
Writer and director Jim Bovino's abstract meditation on the notion of adult futility following the promise of youth, only more fun than that sounds. Barbara Meyer inaugurated things with a doleful monologue, delivered from inside a bucket, during which she dropped stones marking the passage of time (get it?). Then a scenario unfolded in which Don Mabley-Allen endured many travails at a school for the (metaphysically, and otherwise) blind. Cherri Macht as a professor laid out hard lessons on impossibility and the void, then Bovino intervened as the school's director after spending the evening perched 20 feet over the stage. We were left chastened by the ontological realities we face (or don't).
- Quinton Skinner
THREE WEEKS, Edinburgh, August 2005
Is it necessary to understand what you've seen to enjoy it? This play has fine acting, inventive direction and eloquent phrases that create an enthralling piece of theatre, but underneath, lacks clarity. In a play that talks about being able to see more clearly in the darkness, perhaps it is unwittingly providing its own disclaimer. You get the gist of it, it's atmospheric, disturbing and troubling, and you leave thoughtful and questioning. Encased in a sinister soundtrack there's an asylum, and a range of delusions and peculiarities in characters that would feel right at home in a Tim Burton film. This is gripping theatre that raises questions - just be prepared not to have the answers easily at hand.
- Amy Abrahams
CITY PAGES, May 2005
The famed Swiss-German comedian and motivational speaker C.G.
Jung once remarked that, "in the secret hour of life's midday the parabola
is reversed, death is born." In other words, buster, you're either on
the uphill slope or you're on the way down. Writer and director Jim Bovino's
latest work for Flaneur Productions is an extended meditation on this subject,
positing all the infinite possibility and meaning of youth against the disillusionment
and creeping sense of oblivion that follows. The show is dark, and I mean
that literally--the hall is spookily lit for much of the action, which ostensibly
deals with a student played by Don Mabley-Allen and his travails at a school
for the blind. Cherri Macht is glacially imposing as his professor, laying
out hard elliptical lessons as the bewildered Mabley-Allen grasps in vain
for the once-certain outlines of his existence. Charles Campbell plays a man
lost from the start, holding his head in his hands in the front row while
the audience files in, then engaging Barbara Meyer in a frantic dialogue about
salvaging meaning through erudition (Meyer starts the play with a haunting
turn standing in a bucket reciting a monologue about lost memories and hopeful
beginnings). Bovino himself plays the school's director and spends the show
perched at a desk about 20 feet over the stage, lost in meditation and waiting
for his moment to intervene. When he does...well, you'll have to interpret
things for yourself. Suffice it to say that the existential options from which
to choose are stark and none too reassuring. This is a challenging and oddly
entertaining work, and the issues it deals with are (for me, anyway) of crucial
import: How distinctive and original is one's life, and how far can our illusions
take us before their erosion leaves us adrift? Bovino has come up with a very
fine piece of writing, and the cast plays it out with assured awareness. It
is undeniably uncomfortable to be confronted with the meaningless void behind
youthful optimism, and the hollow skeleton left behind when life's ambitions
don't play out as planned. It is called, unfortunately, reality.
- Quinton Skinner
MNARTISTS, May 2005
The Strong and Capable Shoulders of the Student When He Dreams
begins with a monologue spoken by an androgynous character standing in a bucket,
dressed in a tuxedo suit and dropping marbles at her feet. “No film
today,” she says, “there will be no film today. You’ll have
to get your memories somewhere else.” It might be fair to say these
opening lines are a kind introductory greeting to the production’s central
motif: a life not lived, a life observed and “experienced” through
the mechanisms of technology and the media. This is just one strain at work
in this strange and haunting play, which by its own description is a “darkly
poetic consideration of the relationship between the decline of idealized
self-image and the emergence of nihilism and social pathology in the individual.”
Like many of Flaneur’s past productions, this piece relies on its poetic script, the art of the monologue and the singular performance to drive its action. Like many of Jim Bovino’s (writer and director) other works, the play refuses to follow a simple plot line and instead relies on enigmatic scenes where multiple metaphors are (or could be) at work. It isn’t entirely clear what the journey of the play is meant to reveal. It is, as it suggests, darkly poetic and indeed, interested in the social pathology in the individual. There is one brilliant moment when the student asks, “Where are we?” and the professor (played by Cherrie Macht, in an aggressive and interesting performance) answers, “on the summit. ( long pause). “On the edge of the world.”
There are influences of Nietzsche, Brecht and others at work here. A good deal of the writing is beautiful and (is indeed) poetic. I did feel, however, as though the text too often lapsed into long passages that often failed to propel the action or any particular character forward. This may well be one of the very points of the production—but that isn’t made entirely clear.
Despite the lags in the script, there are some stellar performances here; notably, Charles Campbell as Sam and Don Mahley-Allen as the student.
While Flaneur’s work is challenging, it makes my heart glad that somewhere this kind of theater exists and that we are lucky enough to live in a city that still supports it. We are lucky, too, to have a company like Flaneur (recently named one of the dozen hottest small companies in America by American Theater magazine) to confront and haunt us. As one of the characters early on in the play says: “No more words—we have nothing but our experience.”
THE RAKE, May 2005
In its December issue, American Theatre magazine-which is, as far as we know, the only national publication wholly devoted to covering theater-gave a shout to an obscure Minneapolis company few of us, even here, have heard of. (We like obscure; we've mentioned the company here before.) That company, Flaneur Productions, has a penchant for shows constructed out of poetic texts, abstracted images, and experimental soundscapes. In that spirit, their newest effort, so say the flaneurs, explores “the relationship between the frustration of an idealized self-image and the emergence of nihilism and social pathology in the individual.”
THE SECRET MOVIE
THE RAKE, February 2005
This city's swarming with tiny, little theater companies that are either too fringe or too broke to attract much attention. Flaneur Productions is one such troupe (and one hopes they fall into the former category). Given the political statement they’re making with their newest piece—The Secret Movie, a theatrical statement on the cult of celebrity and the camera’s-always-rolling cityscape—we suspect they might be enjoying their obscurity. However, their work is filled with too many poetic and playful non-narrative abstractions to be ignored.
CITY PAGES, February 2005
The advance info on this one is nicely cryptic. Put on by Flaneur Productions (recently named one of the dozen hottest small companies in America by American Theatre magazine), this show will be a "site-specific performance art and social critique." It's a short work based on celebrity, fame, and the general breakdown and fragmentation of the contemporary psyche. (Yeah, I know. I should just speak for myself, but still.) The production is part of Central Air's The Mayor of Uptown, "a nomadic collaborative happening," and is text-based but multidisciplinary and multimedia. In other words, the only real way to know what's going to happen is to show up.
- Quinton Skinner
AMERICAN THEATRE ARTICLE
AMERICAN THEATRE MAGAZINE, December 2004
Flaneur's shows combine original music, recondite, mercurial texts and the occasional jarred jellyfish.[...]
MNARTISTS.ORG, June 9, 2004
I enjoyed a nice piece of avant theater the other night, courtesy of Flaneur
Productions. The occasion was a workshop-style performance of Reggie Prim’s
“theatrical confrontation with the work of Charles Baudelaire.”
Performed well by Jim Bovino, it was an attempt to take the theatricality
of Baudelaire’s writing and make something of it.
All the trappings of experimental theater were present. An uncomfortable lobby (no place to sit), a giant sculpture in the next room (Chris Larson’s untitled spaceship crashing into a house, with a nice piney freshness about it), a late start (fifteen minutes), a dark room with an intermittent light showing what looked like a dead body hanging oddly from a scaffold, a treacherous walk to our seats, a bare room in which a few minimalist props were set, a stark set of white lights that came out of nowhere and went back. A soundscape came from speakers behind the audience, in which a pair of cellos entwine in mordant, discordant harmony, slowly and carefully, while a deep voice (Jim Bovino's) speaks from the work of tonight’s object of desire.
All these things I like.
Franklin Artworks started as a renovation project for the neighborhood, and evolved into an avant gallery that is steadily written up in national and local art publications and columns. But it only takes up about a third of the space. The rest is where this play takes place, and it’s a great setting. This was a movie theater that my mom used to go to in the twenties and thirties, and like the Southern Theater it has a broken proscenium arch over one great wall. But instead of a staging area, it has a tattered movie screen. There are so few places in Minneapolis that are old that it is natural to look to this space and not dress it up at all. Visually, the space offers a lot because of it. The contrast between the ancient wall and the refurbished stark concrete and wallboard gives the scenic director a chance to change scenery simply by doing a blackout, moving the actor, and bringing up a light in a different place. Our actor is wearing a shirt that is perfect, a flouncy thing that renders any additional scenery superfluous.
Bovino does a nice job personifying this self-absorbed icon of indulgence. Was he a dandy with a great intellect? Or was he a selfish blowhard who couldn’t perceive past the end of his upturned nose? Was he full of insight about the nature of art and the struggle of the artistic temperament? Or was he one of those dilletantes who talk about it but never do it? That is the struggle we have in making sense of his work. Opening night jitters aside, Bovino cuts a dashing figure, whining and prating and preening and yearning and agonized. It’s never overdone in the acting, no matter how overdone the writing is.
Don’t get me wrong; we are here to hear the overdone writing. We want to make more sense of this stuff, to see if it holds up as spoken word. Does that demystify it or intensify it? I think it does both. “We must live and sleep in front of the mirror” reminds me of Michael Jackson saying he would sleep on stage if he could. Baudelaire describes “...a burning need to be original” and “...the proud satisfaction of never being amazed” and “Paris may change, but my melancholy is fixed” and “dear God, let me produce just a few verses so that I am not inferior to those I despise.” He wanders off into abstract thinking about art, and worries about tumbling into the abyss of the abstract. His subject is self-awareness, and he is self-aware enough to know he’s painted himself into a corner on occasion. My favorite line in the text is when he enumerates a series of awful images, and then says the only thing worse is boredom. Then he accuses the thrill-seeker who reads his books of being hypocritical, and calls him “my double, my brother.”
So this is an ambitious undertaking that Prim is working on, and I for one hope he gets a chance to produce it again with fuller production values. Prim is open to suggestion and learning, and knew he had to get it up on stage to see what was working.
I had only two problems with this production. The first was that the humorous aspects of the text were kept in the wings for too long. There are a couple of very funny set pieces that could make the deeper material more accessible. As Graydon Royce of the Strib once put it, when I was eavesdropping on a private conversation he was having, “The humor early on opens us up, and then we can be more affected by the emotion.” I think of it as first cracking open the sternum, and then giving the audience the Heart Punch. But it's the same idea.
The other problem is the Franklin itself. The dramatic echo also works against comprehension, and this is dense material, as dense as listening to Shakespeare. You don’t have to miss many words to miss what’s going on, and in this script that can be deadly. The place needs some curtains, some carpeting, something to deaden the huge expanse of flat surface that makes lines sound like gargling. I could hear everything Bovino said when he was near me and looking at me, but that was not where he was, or should be, most of the time. - Dean Seal
BLACK DIAMOND BABY
CITY PAGES– March
If you've ever been the gatekeeper of a child's mouth, you've probably grappled with the word "NUK." Like Kleenex, NUK is a trademark that now stands in for the product at large, and like "pustulated," it's an ugly word, partly because of its resemblance to a vulgarism associated in the recent past with the feminist rock-music combo Limp Bizkit. Looking to avoid this word, yet equally committed to baby-friendly informality, a growing number of parents have embraced the present writer's neologism, "Cloon," a truncation of the surname of hillbilly heartthrob George Clooney, who starred in the movie The Peacemaker , the noun of which title is synonymous with "pacifier." In Flaneur Productions' Black Diamond Baby , actor Christian Gaylord's creepy general has a Cloon attached to his trench coat (with a Cloon Clip, the greatest practical invention since the mechanical pencil). Once in a while, in a desperate gesture that brings to mind Dennis Hopper's ether hits in Blue Velvet , he gives the Cloon a vigorous sucking. It seems to help. The production, which takes place in a storage space of the advertising and design school Brainco, is staged in two walk-in- closet-sized wooden boxes. In one, we eavesdrop on the general and his playfellow, Agent Orrin (Don Mabley-Allen), as they conduct a disjointed debate about authenticity and individuality versus replication and conformity. In their underground hovel, among other conversation pieces, is a fish tank full of jellyfish. In the other box, Sydney (Cherri Macht) and Howard (Barbara Meyer) carry on a related debate, and try to decipher a book called Para-Obstetrics . (And yes, those last two are male character names and female actors. The performers are not in drag. Discuss.) Also, there's an active volcano near wherever this is taking place, and Sydney and Howard are involved in some conspiracy involving babies and/or aliens, and there's a puppet in the show, but I don't think any of this has to do with TV's beloved Alf. In an e-mail note, playwright Jim Bovino told me he hopes his work will inspire an "opening for [the spectator's] imagination." And it does, in a couple of ways. One, it's a smart piece that might inspire some amateur philosophy. (Thanks to something I'd read the night before, I was led to muse about the fallacy of linguistic determinism; I also thought about pizza.) Two, it's so recondite, so uninterested in narrative or drama, that any garden-variety mind is likely to wander a bit or a lot. I have a mild crush on this show, by which I mean I'm attracted to its art-for-art's-sake spirit, I like some of the language, and I like what seems to be its very natural (authentic?) strangeness. Yet it's a hard piece for me to love. I fear that it's not visually interesting enough to carry its not-always captivating poetry and free-form dialogue. Still, and with all sincerity, it makes me deeply happy that this stuff exists, warts and jellyfish and bleeding foreheads (I forgot to mention that part) and all. At least I think that's what I think, but how can I be sure? "I have a difficult time distinguishing between my thoughts and those of others," says Sydney at one point, to which Howard responds, like a Dadaist vaudevillian, "You have other people's thoughts in your head?"
- Dylan Hicks
THE YOUNG MACHINES
CITY PAGES - April 23,
The Young Machines starts with a pre-recorded monologue that I mistook for voiceover king and jazz poet Ken Nordine. It was actually John O'Donoghue, the play's writer and director, speaking with a calm sonority that could sell Folgers coffee or narrate a psychedelic nightmare. "You never understand," he says, and we don't. This is a strange and inscrutable play, with both qualities being central to its charm. Its tone is derived from 1960s B movies and TV police dramas, but its storyline has been laid out like a puzzle with half the pieces tossed out. The viewer's comprehension is not aided by the cavernous Franklin ArtWorks theater space, where words reverberate and sometimes get lost in acoustically merciless concrete. Watching the play, I sometimes experienced boredom of an intensity I normally associate with church or waiting rooms. My thoughts wandered to what I would wear on Easter (velour jumpsuit) or whether I had paid my last parking ticket (no). And yet the play is sticking with me; I'm still chuckling over its most inspired scenes. The show elliptically follows a conspiratorial plot, something involving an unseen nightclub owner named Marvin Moulde, and a potent brain implant previously tested on seals. Dave "Jazz" Dogwood (O'Donoghue) orchestrates the plan in an underground hideout, for which the literally and metaphorically cold space is well suited. The four-person cast acts in a kind of loving parody of gritty TV "realism." The characters are either familiar types or seem like they ought to be: the vampish sci-fi villain (Barbara Meyer, who deserves more stage time), the pigeon-toed misfit (Don Mabley-Allen, whose incongruous speech about Montana ranch-style pizza has a Harold Pinter or Tarantino feel), the stylish cynic (would-be Rat Packer Jim Bovino, whose pratfall is of Chevy Chase quality). O'Donoghue is harder to peg. He purposefully and quite winningly performs in a wooden, self-conscious style, delivering loopy variations on action-movie one-liners with a straight face. Well, straight but contorted. His mouth is often frozen open in a toothless "O," which, combined with a breathy rasp--quite different from his voiceover style--brings to mind Ronald Reagan. An original score of guitar-based instrumentals by the Pins and other Flaneur-associated combos augments the show, often evoking the "freak-out" scenes from late-'60s movies. The production's combined effect is like watching late-night TV with the stereo playing in an adjacent room while coming down from an oven-cleaner high. Which may or may not be an endorsement.
- Dylan Hicks
THREE WEEKS , Edinburgh
- August 15
Very very very odd. Very. I am still trying to work out exactly what this show was about. Post-Industrial neo-apocalyptic visions of a disordered world, where all that matters is order and regularity, presented in a manner something like a cross between the Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Rain Man, Flaneur's show is interesting, if nothing else. That aside, I enjoyed it immensely and can still see images from the bizarre robotic tableaux, burned into my mind by the excellent lighting. I liked it.
- Sam Taylor
DIGITAL CITY - April, 2002
Watch out Twin Cities, the Flaneurs are back to take your self-imposed
blinders off and help you peer into the existential ghettos of experience.
Yes, you'll never find Flaneur Productions at The Jungle or any other EZ theaters
with overstuffed chairs. They're out to change the way you look at the
world, which means taking you off the beaten path to non-traditional spaces
like The Soap Factory, or, for their current production, the Nobles Experimental
Art Studio in St. Paul. Here, in this former munitions factory, the group
will present Soft Sleepers, performance artist/playwright Jim Bovino's smart,
creepy meditation on the meeting point of death, time and power. Set
in a post-apocalyptic, would-be airport, this play introduces audiences to
a small group of troubled, inquisitive characters each exploring a future
limited by the experience of his or her past. With an original score by Rich
Barlow and set and light design by Nate Cutlan, Flaneur lures the audience
into a world where even the simplest pair of shoes is called into question.
- Lisa D'Amour
CITY PAGES - April 3,
It's not often I miss a play that everybody is telling me I must see, but when it happens, oh, do I regret it. And so I tear at my few remaining hairs on an almost daily basis because I missed the last play by Flaneur Productions, Wildlife, which came to me with high recommendations. I won't repeat this error with the company's newest production written by Jim Bovino. Theatergoers should already be familiar with Bovino, as he played the title role in 15 Head's production of Cheri. Here he has written a piece that the press release describes as "a meditation on the meeting point of death, time, and power." These are rather free-floating themes, yes, but where else to explore such heady material than at the theater, and who better than Bovino, who studied at the International School for Theatre Anthropology in Denmark, which also produced Jerzy Grotowski, Dario Fo, and Franca Rame?
RADIO website October 12, 2001
Flaneur Productions presents a surreal look at a surreal world in Inventory a story of insanity and a quest for truth. The madmen are taking over the mental hospital, and we're not sure whether the doctor is really a dojust another patient. Really surrealist theater at the Soap Factory.
CITY PAGES– May
Writer/performer John O'Donoghue brings a very different sort of madness to the stage at the Center for Independent Artists. O'Donoghue might spend a fair amount of time frozen onstage in Wildlife,[but] it is not because he is lost in a moment of aesthetic meditation. Instead, it is because his character, a shabby street poet, has managed to retain just enough of his sanity to know when he has lost control of his behavior, if not enough to prevent himself from doing so. O'Donoghue's performance--which sees him detouring from anything that might resemble a point, then doubling back on himself--is a dazzling one. His monologues tell of a man lost somewhere on the fringes, making infrequent, tragically unsuccessful gestures toward normalcy. It is this morbid self-awareness, played on a stage cluttered with filthy clothes, that brings the play dangerously close to heartbreaking. In one scene, O'Donoghue, attempting to romance a young woman he's met in the park, turns to an unseen friend and betrays his own terror at his unpredictable behavior. "How do I look?" he asks. "How am I acting?"
- Max Sparber
STAR TRIBUNE - July
John O’Donoghue’s one man show surveys the world through the eyes of a street philosopher who shuffles and twitches, covered with sweat, with all the truth you can handle spilling from his lips. It’s a mostly absorbing look at a man rebelling against the power structure while trying to avoid his own disintegration. In one scene, O’Donoghue defends a character, yelling, "I know how to tell a story." Yes, he does.
- Colleen Kelly
CITY PAGES - August 2,
In this one man performance piece by Brooklynite John O’Donoghue, an artist new to an unnamed city embarks on a steady descent into madness. While disjointed soliloquies abound (the guy is nuts, after all), O’Donoghue brings a venerable arsenal to the project: His body movement is fluid and powerful; he has a gift for ranting; and he bears a striking resemblance to Tom Waits. And so the actor ensures that even if audiences cannot relate to the emptiness of this drifting soul, they can at least be entertained by it.
- Jonathan Kaminsky