THERE ARE BOWIE FANS and there are Bowie fans. The former enjoy listening to "Changes," and will occasionally drop a quarter in the juke-box to hear "suffragette City." The latter--the true fanatics--get a maniacal gleam in their eyes when the magic name is mentioned. They've memorized His concert slide sequences and all His songs. They "understand" the lyrics. They "enjoy" watching the famous eye-slicing scene. They produced Peoploids in Hunger City.
The rest of us watch in horror and fascination. As thirteen talented cast members sing and dance their way through a montage of Bowie hits, acting out strange scenes of violence and alienation while crooning into mikes about being "heroes for just one day," we realize that what we're seeing is not so much a theatrical event as a kind of elaborate private worship.
The players grin eerily out into space. Sometimes they beat the walls with sticks. Sometimes, they pick a victim and surround him, chanting. When they get really upset, they take off their clothes. And as punked-out zombies scream from the stage, alternately mocking and seducing the audience, our exclusion becomes part of the thrill.
According to the program notes--perhaps the most pretentious in House theatre history--it all means somethings. In case the K-School Foru posters and South Africa rally handbills which fill the back wall of the stage don't to the trick. Edward Hill and William Sakas, who wrote the, er, script have provided us with a few helpful hints. It seems the show is more than just a demonic medley of Bowie tunes, artfully arranged with costumes and dance. It seems it is also Political. "This show is about the Harvard Committee on Central America and the editorial page of The Harvard Crimson [how nice], the neutron bomb and The 700 Club, Jerry Falwell and Ronald Reagan," Oh.
So that explains the angry, self-righteous lone of the singers and those out-of-the-blue slides of bloody North Vietnamese which keep materializing above the stage. Perhaps it also explains the passage from Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories which Hill reads before the company breaks into a funky rendition of "Rebel, Rebel." And maybe it has something to do with all the gratuitous semi-nudity, or the baffling pantomimes of torture and death. May be it even explains Leslie Beckhart's stunning array of metallic punk costumes, although they make Peoploids look more like a Fiorucci fashion show than a Washington march.
BUT PERHAPS this is taking the show too seriously. Although the people for pcoploids) who perform in and wrote Peoploids in Hunger City seem to think they are saying something terribly meaningful, those of us who don't really know what's going on can enjoy it nonetheless. The singers have a gutsy, raw sound, especially Valerie Gilbert and the woman who calls herself--honest--Isopropyl Pavlova in the program. The band is energetic and terrific-- Noelani Rodriguez on bass, and John Arimond, Regina Arnold, and Morley Robertson on guitar. Robertson's bizarre contortions with his instrument are particularly fun to watch.
Sakas has done much better with the staging than he did with the program notes. He manages to use the cramped, limited quarters of Leverett's Old Library imaginatively; the audience sits in a kind of pit in the center of the room and the musicians stand above them in high window ledges. Elevated runways line the library's walls, and these serve not only as entrances and exits for the dancers and chorus, but also as extensions of the stage proper. When the singers line either of these runways and belt out "Golden Tears" or "Beauty and the Beast" the effect is almost stereophonic.
THROUGHOUT Peoploids in Hunger City, the performers throw themselves into their work with enthusiasm no matter what ridiculous things they are requested to do. With straight faces, Debbie Wasser and Ashley Roundtree calmly strip down to silk negligee and fruit-of-the-looms as they sing the melancholy duet "Heroes." Later, Wasser submits to being beaten with a cord with equal aplomb.
But the best scenes are not so much ridiculous, as just plain nasty: Pavlova belts out "Fashion," strutting across the stage or pouting like a cranky child. Dean Norris pulls the microphone lead sinuously through his crotch, as he leers evilly into space. At least it looks like space from the audience. Who knows what he thinks he's looking at. For that matter, who knows what any of this really means. And, who the hell knows what the Pavlova family had in mind when they named their talented daughter.