This past weekend I took a bus in the heavy snow to the Berkshires in Massachusetts.
I had two special theatrical events to attend.
One was to attend a performance/theater/artsy/German/avantgarde thingamagig at Mass MOCA, in which actors lived in a theatrical set all day, and the audience could walk around the perimeter, peering in through the curtains as the “play” was performed in real time.
The other performance piece involved me visiting the home of Jenn Mattern, one of my all-time favorite bloggers. She writes at Breed ‘Em and Weep, as well as Parentdish and Work it, Mom! During this visit, I would be allowed to walk around and observe this “Jenn Mattern” in her daily life, as well as interact with other “actors” in her natural habitat. This would offer me a unique glimpse behind the “writing” curtain to understand the woman behind the fancy words.
Two environments, two curtains to pull back, two sets of actors. But two vastly different theatrical experiences.
The art performance at the museum, while well-packaged as an event, was quite cold and “Germanic” in ambiance. The set was mostly a clumsily-constructed wooden box, with few comforts of home. The audience members walked aimlessly around the set waiting for some activity, and the pace of the drama was quite slow.
One of the lead characters, THE SLEEPY GUY, slept for most of the time I was on the set.
The other two characters, THE ANGRY WOMAN and the NEBBISH DUDE, walked back and forth from the other rooms, like bored roommates with no social life other than having Twitter on their phones.
There was some sort of conversation going on between Angry and Nebbish, but it was difficult to follow, and annoying to have to schlep with them from room to room. I think the angry woman was a stripper. At some point she yelled at the Nebbish Dude that “It is my vagina and I will do what I want with it!” This was pretty much the highlight of the play, or at least the part I saw. After this outburst, the Nebbish Dude sat around on the couch and played some Led Zeppelin on his boombox.
I can’t truly “review” this performance, because it takes place over four days, eight hours a day in a box in a museum, so it is quite possible that something exciting happened after I left the room. My segment consisted mostly of the actors sleeping or kvetching about their vaginas.
After fifteen minutes, I went to have a turkey sandwich in the cafe.
In contrast, the Jenn Mattern theater piece was nothing at all like the dark, sterile, dystopian vision of the German director. Her house was warm and inviting, and Jenn herself was a delightful, attractive, fully three-dimensional lead character, a charismatic brunette with a warm heart and a sharp wit.
The pace of her theater piece, while completely improvised, was chaotic, funny, unexpected, and filled with the old-fashioned “realism” of a well-made play. You could feel the “life” exploding in her environment, and there are more subplots going on in her story than in an episode of Mad Men. Jenn has two cats. And two dogs. And two daughters. And a mother, Elaine, who lives nearby, a terrific blogger herself, who sometimes just drops in unannounced, like Kramer in Seinfeld, just to play her accordion.
The Mattern house is an endearingly eccentric mix of books, Fruit Loops, children, music, writing, dogs and cats, and a bit of refreshingly open neuroticism. And Jenn is as beautiful a person as she is a talented writer. Anyone who is lucky enough to visit will have an unforgettable experience.
Oh, yeah. The experience was also interactive, like “Tony and Tina’s Wedding.” Here I am, walking the family dog, Eli. This was the very first time I ever walked a dog. I picked up the poop — all by myself! Try doing THAT when you are seeing “Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark” on Broadway!
So, the reviews are in —
1) The German avant garde performance piece at the museum — one star. a snore-fest, or as one of Jenn’s elder daughter put it, “That sounds REALLY BORING.”
2) The Mattern home — five stars! Rave reviews. The highlight of the 2011 season.
Thanks, Mattern family!