BWW Review: Adrienne Truscott Plays Both Comedian and Performance Artist in ADRIENNE TRUSCOTT'S A ONE TRICK PONY
If you've heard of Adrienne Truscott's work, the title of her current show, ADRIENNE TRUSCOTT'S A ONE TRICK PONY (OR Andy Kaufman IS A FEMINIST PERFORMANCE ARTIST AND I'M A COMEDIAN), is self-explanatory: she last made waves with ADRIENNE TRUSCOTT'S ASKING FOR IT, a comedy special in which she stood on stage, naked from the waist down, and told rape jokes for an hour. So why is it, Truscott asks, that a woman who has just told a bunch of jokes is labeled a feminist performance artist, while Andy Kaufman, a man who never told a single joke, was labeled a comedian? Isn't it, Truscott asks, ironic?
In ONE TRICK PONY at Joe's Pub on June 27, Truscott came out twice before the show "began," apologizing for starting late. "My dress just hasn't arrived yet; it's on its way here right now." Was this a fakeout? The first time I wasn't sure, but when it happened again I was pretty certain. By beginning the show with a couple false starts, Truscott was already playing with the concept of persona, which Andy Kaufman also often played with. When was she Adrienne and when was she (Adrienne playing the role of) "Adrienne"?
Truscott greatly admires Kaufman and sees him as a main source of inspiration as a comedian. Kaufman's personas often found humor by making us uncomfortable: we don't know if we're laughing with a brilliant comedian, or at a failed one.
The sort of discomfort Truscott is more interested in is whether we're laughing with a woman, or at a woman. When a woman tells rape jokes naked from the waist down, is it brilliant performance art and high comedy, or just an annoying feminist who hasn't gotten the memo yet that "women aren't funny"?
Speaking of irony, Truscott makes several humorous allusions to the concept. The "true" beginning of the piece has us endure Snow Patrol's "Chasing Cars," while she "just lay[s] [t]here" for its entire three minutes and 41 seconds. "It's ironic because it's bad, but I know it's bad and that makes it smart," she says. Then again, she points out, in making her audience sit through it for so long, she has to endure the bad song herself.
The irony motif continues, from having a projection display all sorts of text that her onstage persona "unknowingly" mirrors or references; to describing that time she and a friend set out to Texas to learn how to become feminist performance artists, only to run out of money and have to become strippers; to describing a woman they called the "Ironic stripper," because she danced exclusively to Alanis Morissette's "Ironic"-un-ironically.
This is, yet again, a way to tease out the idea in the long title--- isn't it ironic (not in the Morisettian sense) for a person who tells jokes to be labeled a performance artist, and isn't it ironic for a person doing weird shit that confuses people and pokes at the nature of performance and performing the self to be labeled a comedian?
When I went to look at some of Kaufman's work, I found an SNL performance in which he plays "Foreign Man," a nervous man who does bad impressions and forgets what he was going to do and bemoans that he can't tell whether the audience is laughing with or at him, dissolving into honking sobs that turn into a rhythmic song that he completes with a bit of bongo before waltzing offstage.
One way of understanding Foreign Man is that Kaufman is simply doing an excellent character study, not unlike playing a role in a straightforward play. The difference is Kaufmann is doing it on a stage where usually it is assumed that you are being yourself, or at least the persona of "yourself."
"Can we turn off the tape?" Foreign Man suggests, distressed at having run out of material.
"How much time do we have left?" Truscott asks her sound guy in Joe's Pub.
"About 50 minutes," he says.
"Oh... great... that's enough time for like a whole show." A previous review blurb is projected behind her: "One of the funniest parts of the show is when she appears to run out of material" (Jim Schrembi from The Herald Sun).
A main difference between Truscott's onstage persona and Kaufman's many characters was how conversational "Adrienne" was. Her character was more approachable, less odd, and less obviously not-her. This approachability seemed to underscore Truscott's determination to be a comedian before a performance artist. Or, it at least shows that she's invested in the audience following her logic a bit more than she's interested in confusing her audience or making them "work for it," as performance art is wont to do.
That said, this conversational tone of the show sometimes made ONE TRICK PONY feel less dynamic than Kaufman's work. Maybe because his personas were often more absurd than "Adrienne" generally was, or maybe because the Mighty Mouse routine and Foreign Man are more tightly choreographed. When the "asking the sound guy" bit continued throughout ONE TRICK PONY, it could sometimes feel like Truscott was paying homage for the sake of paying homage.
But perhaps this betrays my own preference for performance art over stand-up comedy: my favorite moment was when a number of bits, motifs, and stories led Truscott to eat a pancake while slowly descending into the splits, with platform boots and a sparkly dress half-on.
Weaving many threads together in one bizarre, culminating pose felt the most like Truscott channeling Kaufman, perhaps because it had that same flavor of absurdity and the same sense that the performer behind the persona is just delighted to be doing his or her work.
There were so many moments in this piece with such exuberance, and it made ONE TRICK PONY amusing and thought-provoking the whole way through. This show is not to be missed.
ADRIENNE TRUSCOTT'S A ONE TRICK PONY (OR Andy Kaufman IS A FEMINIST PERFORMANCE ARTIST AND I'M A COMEDIAN) will continue at Joe's Pub on August 4 and September 23. For tickets and information, visit www.publictheater.org.
Audrey Moyce likes to write and perform and write about performance. You can find more of her work at audreymoyce.com.