Performing Arts: Theater
August 4, 2014
In the lower level of HERE Arts Center, you are met by a mumbling man in earthy plaids telling you where to exit “when the fire comes.” He sits in a corner amidst eclectic gadgetry and begins pushing buttons. Composer Freddi Price remains there for Robin Frohardt’s The Pigeoning with stern focus cemented on his face, filling campy Fender Rhodes, dramatic Wurlitzer, and mournful muted trumpet into Frohardt’s neurotic color scheme.

We meet Frank. He has an office. He appreciates a wide, upside-down peace sign’s distance between objects. When he sips his coffee, the Styrofoam must be wiped clean before subsequent sipping. If he touches himself, each point of contact must be similarly sterilized. It’s ok if he damages his nameplate, however; those are indefinitely replaceable. Without words, Frohardt maximally develops her protagonist’s character in minimal time, polishing actions like gems.

Frank is always surrounded by hooded figures with mesh faces. These aren’t harbingers of death so much as virtuoso puppeteers. The Pigeoning uses techniques from Bunraku puppetry, in which one offstage voice speaks for each ornate vessel. Frank, though, never speaks. We only hear his office manual, who has a coldly polite feminine tone.

When reviewing “Office Safety,” the voice glitches, demanding that Frank address a disturbance in the office. Frank’s solitude and dependence on the manual are so severe his own thoughts are wrapped in its synthetic voice, ostensibly an external stimulus. We encounter everything through Frank’s perception of what he is present to experience as he masochistically reconfigures everything that happens in reality at himself.

Frohardt’s visual wit is spellbinding, but occasionally compromises the pacing of the plot. Montages illustrate Frank consulting his manual on “Interspecies Conspiracies.” Failed camouflage ranges from crashing RC pigeons to unconvincing pigeon garb. Ultimately, he is electrocuted climbing a telephone post to fetch a pecking bird. These elaborate sequences each move the plot one small notch, feeling like live-action Roadrunner cartoons, yet are so diverting we forget the performative precision it takes to execute the actions. Whether scenes be methodical constructions or dragging shtick, Frohardt’s stage is collage space poetically combining humdrum images. Frank flies, first among pigeons, but eventually alongside his manual. His guide becomes visually synonymous with that which plagues him. It is an antihero; its hold on his autonomy is so strong it pushes Frank to overcome his debilitating tidiness.

Its “Surveillance” chapter is so compelling he retrieves a Polaroid of a suspicious pigeon from a trashcan. After braving the pigeon-conspired flood, Frank sits, surrounded by pigeons, clinging not to his manual, but to a sign prophesying doom. Nobody won; there has been a shift in obsession. The very need for order that required the manual allowed Frank to overcome its preventative neurosis in favor of a more active one.

An underwater return of the nameplate shows Frank reclaiming, or perhaps creating for the first time, his identity. Reality now seems to happen freely around rather than to Frank as clenches his sign where his manual once nested.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY--Jonathan Matthews

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