I went to BAM Fisher on 12/18 to see *A Piece of Work*. BAM Fisher is a new performance space at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, they specialize in what my friend Jim calls “art torture”. Jim was at the grand opening of the center, since his friend Jeanie is the widow of the guy whose money paid for the place, Dick Fisher. The grand opening featured a Brooklyn-based modern dance group doing something abstract and tiresome. Jim was sitting next to Tommy Tune, who turned to Jim during the applause and said, in his thick Texas accent, “Wasn’t that the biggest piece o’ sh-t ya ever SAW…”
The best thing about the show is that it started at 7:35 PM and I was on the subway platform at 8:38 PM. You gotta love that!
I guess you would say that *A Piece of Work* is an adaptation of *Hamlet*. It was computer-driven - - four of the five sections had no human content onstage at all. Much of the piece consisted of lines from the play being projected on a screen and a computer voice reciting the text. They had engineered a different computer voice for each of the characters. I’ll go through the play section by section:
A quick breeze through the entire play, pulling out a few lines in each scene. There were big laughs in Act IV, when the only lines read were stage directions: “Enter Hamlet. Exit Hamlet.”
The computer sorted through the lines of the play using certain constraints - - like any line that started with the word “O” - - “O, ho! Do you mark that?” “O, come away!” “O, from this time forth / My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!” Or any line that had two words. Or one word with two syllables. Or one word with one syllable.
This was the section that involved a human actor, and he was my reason for being there - - I first saw Scott Shepherd in the Wooster Group production of *Hamlet*, which used the Richard Burton *Hamlet* film as its template. They projected the film onto a large screen and the actors shadowed the film actors. Sometimes the film actors spoke, sometimes the actors in the room spoke, sometimes they both spoke. It was interesting, but not really illuminating.
Karen Miller was with me for that, and we also went to another Shepherd performance, one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen, a show called *Gatz*, done by the Elevator Repair Service. It was a staged reading of *The Great Gatsby*. The whole book. It was about eight hours long, with a dinner break in the middle. Shepherd played Nick Carraway, the narrator. He realized, after a number of performances of the show, that he knew the entire novel by heart. He performed the last hour of the book off book. I wish I had written about this at the time, it really was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.
Anyway, he was in *A Piece of Work*. His section consisted of him sitting in a chair and being fed his lines through an earpiece. The computer took famous lines from the play and altered them, Mad Libs style, by substituting other words from the play. So it became “To be and not to be. This is the gravel.” Hilarious. This section ended with a Steinian monologue of him saying a long string of two- or three-letter words from the play: like “of is but yes and the is no see but be”.
The computer did more Mad Libs, shuffling the words but staying within a character’s part. So Ophelia’s words would be traded with other words that Ophelia says. It often made complete sense, but not exactly what Shakespeare had intended. Which makes me wonder - - what would he think of this show? Why do I care?
Not the most satisfying way to end the show, but hey, when it’s less than an hour long, how much of an imposition is it. The computer invented new words, of course using words from the play and mixing them up. It was funny seeing them and especially funny hearing the computer pronounce them. I would have liked more participation with Shepherd at the end, maybe a conversation (a duel?) between him and the computer. Because after all, what a piece of work is man!
A CELEBRITY SIGHTING
I had dinner at the Subway at the Atlantic terminal mall before the show. I still had some time to waste, so I went down to Dress Shoe Warehouse. I wasn’t going to buy anything, I was just looking at what they had. And who did I see walking by but Coco Rocha:
Joan Rivers had a funny bit on *Fashion Police* - - one of their standard segments is to show two women in the same outfit, and decide who wears it better. The segment is called “B-tch Stole My Look!” Katy Perry wore an Ungaro leopard print dress at the VMAs, and Coco Rocha had worn the same dress to the Costume Institute Gala. The panel decided that it looked better on Perry, mostly because she shortened it to the knee, the floor length on Rocha didn’t look as sharp. Joan Rivers said:
RIVERS: I have a knock knock joke about Coco Rocha. Knock knock.
AUDIENCE: Who’s there?
AUDIENCE: Coco who?
RIVERS: Coco Rocha.
AUDIENCE: Coco Rocha who?
RIVERS: And you keep going from there, because I have no idea who she is or why I should care.
Hilarious! For the record, I know her from *The Face*, a trashy model competition show on Oxygen. Anyway, back to DSW: at first, I thought, “That can’t be Coco Rocha, what would she be doing at Dress Shoe Warehouse in Brooklyn?” But who else is eight feet tall, would be wearing a teal blue mink jacket, and look exactly like Coco Rocha? I was tempted to talk with her, but didn’t feel up to it.