FEATURE THE WOOSTER GROUP
n the past few years New York’s Wooster Group have reached a particularly happy phase of their career. Acclaimed internationally as one of the world’s finest avant-garde performance ensembles, its individual members have broken through to the massive movie audiences that would be unlikely even to have heard of the Performance Garage, their tiny Manhattan theatre. Founder member Spalding Gray’s success with Swimming to Cambodia has been followed by Willem Dafoe’s meteoric screen career - from Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ and Lynch’s Wild At Heart, to Paul Schrader’s Light Sleeper. Wooster Group director Liz LeCompte is sanguine about the extra pressures this brings. ‘The main problem really is scheduling for Willem, so he can shuttle back from shooting to work with us in SoHo. He absolutely loves making movies, which is
‘Brace Up!’ explains LeCompte, ‘essentially comes from us putting together Chekhov with the formality of Japanese theatre and movies.’
great, but it also means that he can help the rest of us financially. Spalding’s gone his own way for a long time now, but he’s always in contact, giving us advice, and generally always around.’
In typical style, as those lucky mortals who caught the Group’s memorable appearance at the Tramway two years ago will know, this gradual accession to fame has become yet one more element in the Wooster Group’s jigsaw, another bit of grist to LeCompte’s creative mill. ‘Well, Ron [Vawter, a longtime Group performer] was really very jealous of Willem, he wanted very much to work in the movies too. And that, in a sense, is what our last piece The Temptation of StAntony was about — the temptation of fame. That’s why there were pictures of Willem as Jesus on the video monitors — they were specifically there to mock Ron. But he‘s made it too, now.’ Vawter, whose biggest movie role to date was the psychiatrist in sex, lies and videotape, in many ways is the dominant figure of a Wooster Group performance: his astonishing two-hour lip-synch (of a mock nude chatshow, no less) was the backbone of The Temptation ofSt Antony; his comic abilities as the MC ofthe high-speed rendition of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible in LSD (. . .Justthe High Points. . .) are equally spectacular.
The Wooster Group’s new show Brace Up.’ was previewed as a work-in-progress during their last visit to Tramway, and is likely to be as unpredictably off-the-wall as anything they’ve done before. ‘I was so pleased that the audience put up with us just messing about,’ says LeCompte. ‘The difference, though, between then and now will be the difference between a finished work and testing ideas out.’ One certainty is that, as always, the audience will be treated to a radical dismantling of a well-known stage classic. Previous targets have included Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and T.S. Eliot’s The Cocktail Party, as well as Miller’s
10 The List 23 October -; Ploy-ember 1992
tale of longing, The Three Sisters. ‘Brace Up.” explains Le Compte, ‘essentially comes from us putting together Chekhov with the formality of Japanese theatre and movies. Ron was doing some improvising with this Japanese stuff, mainly with Japanese samurai movies — The Seven Samurai, Rashomon etc —— and it seemed to fit together very nicely. There’s no rationale behind putting things together. I don’t really know what it is, I just like it. As for the title, it’s because the translators can’t be bothered to translate everything for the subtitles — they just keep on putting in the phrase ‘brace up!’ It’s strange.’
If this sounds a trifle disarming, it is. The Wooster Group have been operating at the highest level of cutting-edge performance for close on two decades, from the Spalding Gray-inspired Rhode Island Trilogy of the
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The Crucible. This time, it’s Chekhov’s great
Those wacky Wooster Groupies are back from downtown New York, bringing their latest warped classic to Glasgow’s Tramway. Andrew Pulver talks stardom, samurai and structure with the Group’s directorial doyenne, LIZ LECOMPTE.
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Willem Daloe and Kate Vallr in Brace Up!
705, to the current Road to Immortality trilogy, for which Brace Up.’ forms an epilogue. They’re trilogies only in the loosest sense of the word, as LeCompte . freely acknowledges — the pieces expand, develop and transform over the (often) 9 years of improvisation and work in the i Garage. ‘All our stuff is absolutely open-ended. The idea of the trilogy is really
a designation that they share the same sort
of themes — not a strict structural thing. Each time we finish one I think, that’s the end, no more. But that doesn’t last for long. We’ll go on for ever.’
The Wooster Group are appearing at Tram way, Glasgow 28—31 October. The performances are part of the New World Orderseason sponsored by Oranjeboom Lager. See Theatre listings for details.
Frank Dell’s The Teptatlon at Saint Antony—j