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Resting On Her Lauriels

October 28, 2008

I couldn't help myself. I tried really hard to stay awake. It wasn't like I hadn't slept the night before or had eaten a heavy meal prior going to the theatre. Yet I could barely keep my eyes open during Laurie Anderson's latest appearance in Berkeley.

The veteran experimental performance artist performed her latest show in front of a packed house at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall. And though many people cheered and have the performer a standing ovation, all my addled brain and heart could do was lament how often artists with big reputations can get so much funding and earn such unabashed adoration for essentially resting on their laurels -- or, in this case, lauriels.

Anderson has been a great artist. I was thoroughly engrossed by her Songs for Amelia Earhardt, which I caught in New York a few years ago. And "O Superman" continues to make a potent statement about the onslaught of technology and humanity's accompanying sense of fear and loneliness more than 25 years on.

But Homeland, Anderson's latest work condemning life in America since the 9/11 World Trade Center attack, is static, repetitive and incredibly predictable.

The most maddening thing about the production is Anderson's almost Seinfeldian approach to riffing on the minutiae of our daily lives in this country. Her trundling, ominous-bassed, extremely long songs cover such themes as the embarrassment one feels standing in the security line at the airport with all one's belongings on display and oversized Victoria's Secret models ruling the world from billboards. This material has been picked over like carrion thousands of times by performers over the past 7 years. If there's anything new to say about such things (which I doubt) Anderson certainly doesn't add anything to the debate.

The dullness of the show's content is further compounded by Anderson's habit of beginning each sentence with "and", the repetitiveness of her pseudo-ironic lilt and the flat nature of the staging. Anderson is joined on stage by a trio of musicians -- a keyboard player, a bass guitar and a cellist. The only aspect of the mise-en-scene which changes over the course of one-and-three-quarter hours are the lights, which seem to vacillate through every color in the spectrum. If only my response to the piece could have been as varied as the lighting design.

The show felt like a complete throwback in terms of style and lacked any kind of new perspective on world events. It must be challenging living up to decades of high repute as an artist. The money comes in and the houses are full. But masses of funding and standing ovations don't necessarily breed innovation.


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