BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
The new year of theatergoing begins with the eighth annual Under the Radar Festival of fresh theater works sponsored by the Public Theater.
This off Broadway festival offers more than a dozen new works from the US and abroad. Tickets are a relative bargain at $20 and anyone with a yen for experimental theater should check out the roster of events on the Public’s website.
Among the shows winning some buzz are “Sontag: Reborn” regarding the cultural critic’s personal development, and “Goodbar,” an unusual musical theater riff upon “Looking for Mr. Goodbar.”
Usually I do not review these short-run Under the Radar Festival events. But I was encouraged by the Public to check out “Super Night Shot,” which continues through Sunday, as a sample of the work done by a German-British collective known as Gob Squad, which scored a big hit at last year’s festival.
That show, “Gob Squad’s Kitchen (You’ve Never Had It So Good),” said to be a clever reworking of Andy Warhol’s underground flicks, returns to the Public on Jan. 19 for a two-week visit.
After seeing “Super Night Shot,” I’m not so sure I’m the right guy for Gob Squad’s vision of Warhol. Let’s explain:
Scarcely a theater event, “Super Night Shot” is almost entirely a video project. It works like this. An hour or so before each show begins, four performers armed with video cameras fan out separately from the Public Theater. They race around nearby blocks making impromptu movies on a superhero theme that involve stray passersby and culminates in a kiss in the middle of Astor Place.
Then they rush back to the Public where the four unedited films are played simultaneously against a live sound/music mix. Depending upon the people the performers engage with on the East Village streets, these hour-long films apparently can change nightly from charming to creepy.
The only part about “Super Night Shot” that might be considered actual live theater happens at the beginning, as several hundred audience members mill about the under-reconstruction lobby at the Public while waiting to enter the Newman space. Ushers carve an aisle amid the throng and soon enough the four Gob Squad-ers joyfully jog past everybody, their video cameras still running. Then we follow them into the theater and watch their movie.
The final seconds of the four films conclude in the Public’s lobby, so the audience got a kick out of seeing themselves in it as well.
Since I am neither a movie nor a TV reviewer, I won’t say much else about the video. But the weather was nice and the Gob Squad ran into a bunch of cheerful, helpful people and so the results were, um, whimsical. From the looks of it, the performers improvise from a basic scenario while packing animal masks and other props. So there’s a coordinated method to their seemingly spontaneous madness.
But it’s video. Not until their curtain call do the performers appear on the stage where the four films have played out across adjoining screens. Call me an old-school purist, but I don’t understand how such an event constitutes theater. From the looks of “Super Night Shot,” Gob Squad doesn’t appear to be a company likely to register on my kind of radar.
Under The Radar Festival continues through Jan. 15 at the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street (and several other venues), New York. Call (212) 967-7555 or visit www.publictheater.org.