Mad For Bliss
Performance Art by Vera Frenkel
The Music Gallery
September 6 — 9
BY RAY DEONANDAN
“Cargo cult: any of the religious movements chiefly, but not solely, in Melanesia that exhibit belief in blessing to be initiated by the arrival of special ‘cargo’ of goods from supernatural sources…”
-small sample of very large inscription on inside cover of programme for Vera Frenkel’ s very strange MAD FOR BLISS
What kind of people strive to achieve a state of bliss? Men, women, heterosexuals, homosexuals, safari ‘bwanas’, yuppies, house-husbands, Messiahs and Melanesian cargo cults — all wearing funky grey pajamas and interchanging hats and roles like inmates of a — a mental ward, perhaps?
And maybe the true attainment of bliss is the synthesis and fitting of artificial limbs, or playing nursery rhymes on touch-tone phones. But, golly, what is bliss? It’s “the teddy bear, but not the stuffing”.
Or so we are told by Vera Frenkel’s gaggle of lunatic performers, as we desperately try to conform to her declaration of ‘the audience as bartender’. That’s right: life begins in a piano bar, baby, and ends only after the apocalypse.
And so what if your pianist (NOT penis) is part aviator and part ballerina — as long as he plays the tunes and keeps plenty of gauze handy. Life (and Mad For Bliss) begins in a piano bar with everyone talking at once, exchanging hats and roles, and singing really really well.
And Act II of Life begins in an Asylum, where three very crazy men vie for sole possession of the title of Christ, and where romance, lunacy and religion get together to dance the tango with cardboard palm trees and fresh copies of The Three Christs of Ypsilanti.
Then we’re in Melanesia, where The White Man shoots a black man to show him that ‘his life is worth nothing other than to carry our cargo.’ Funny-looking natives (still in funky grey pajamas) build a shrine to the coming cargo plane, adorning it with ghetto blasters, candelabras, bowling trophies and more gauze. O what’s a poor bartender to think?
But the cargo plane doesn’t arrive from Heaven, and the Messiah (aka ‘the Lover’) doesn’t sprinkle the land with shiny new cargo. Instead, we’re back in the piano bar, with everybody talking our ear off while we try to pour drinks in peace. “Sex was just a preamble,” we’re told. “It was my radio he wanted all along.” And we hear about someone’s friend who had writer’s block so he arranged for his desk to be set up in the elevator of an art gallery, so that he could always be moving (as if motion helps one overcome writer’s block).
Meanwhile, the metronomes and the blabbering German television persist. Where did the gauze go?
But while we search for bliss in trivial things, the apocalypse is approaching. The voice in the shopping mall says, ‘You must shop around for the right Messiah with the proper credentials. Shop, or someone will shop for you.’ And a surtitle, almost lost among the maze of further visual stimuli, tells us ‘You have been misled by the title.’ And it’s true, dammit.
And as the cast dances offstage chanting ‘Total Abandon’ with proper primal cadence, a grey cloak of depression settles over this many-headed bartender, until it’s suddenly realized: hey, it’s just a performance. And a darn good one at that.