Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Watch Me Fall
Hard to forget Evel Knievel. His hugely mediatized, death-defying stunts and Stars and Stripes costumes made him an icon of the American Seventies. According to Wikipedia, he attempted some 75 ramp-to-ramp motorcycle jumps between 1965 and 1980 and suffered 433 broken bones. His most memorable feat, as it nearly killed him, was his jump (or crash, rather) over the Caesar's Palace fountain in Las Vegas on New Year's Eve, 1967 (he spent a month in a coma). Stunt artist, entertainer, self-promoter and freak show of sorts, Knievel is the object of a different sort of publicity in "Watch Me Fall", by Bristol duo Action Hero, the final act of the program of British theater invited by the Théâtre de la Ville for the mini-festival known as Chantiers Europe.
A tongue-in-cheek dive into Knievel's motives, ambition and personal marketing machine, the 50-minute show uses pop culture's performance codes to question a social desire to indulge voyeuristically in extreme feats. In fact, as its title-cum-command indicates, "Watch Me Fall" places the public center stage, as much a focus of Action Hero's concerns as Knievel's indestructible rogue. Equipped with disposable cameras distributed at the door and standing around a downsized, home-made model of one of Knievel's jumps, the audience is constantly encouraged to clap, cheer, photograph and show its support for the legendary daredevil's feats of derring-do.
The show electrified in the UK with its interactive premise and its ironic take on larger-than-life personas, but fell far short of that response at the performance I saw, where, true to its own cultural codes, the public of Parisian twenty-somethings engaged mildly with the actors, at best. Interestingly however, their reaction proved Action Hero's premise right: if it is human nature to derive strange pleasure from seeing other people take risks and experience pain, the audience barreled into that cliche by, at one point, pelting Gemma Paintin with the plastic golf balls her character was collecting off the floor. When mores are pushed and barriers shaken, propriety too flies out the window.
As short and as elliptical as it was, the piece was far more engaging than the public would allow however, from James Stenhouse's boyish good looks to Paintin's silently suffering stuntman's showgirl, with a smart text that sends-up braggadocio and ABC Sports Specials as easily as it jumps a child's mock-up of the Caesar's Palace fountain (fashioned from an inflatable wading pool and two jumbo bottles of Diet Coke). "Watch Me Fall" is an invitation to see humanity at its most human: reaching for the moon but gravity bound.
June 14-16, 7 pm, Théâtre de la Ville, 2 place du Châtelet, 4e, Métro Châtelet, info: www.theatredelaville-paris.com
Photo Credit: Toby Farrow