Trying to take specific notes during a Reggie Watts performance is like trying to gather Fall leaves in your hands as they flutter past in the swirling wind. You can write down phrases like, “You can’t land a goose on the tip of a whistle,” or “We can take things and put them back where they were…but that’s not love…that’s replacement,” or “the psychosomatic luxury of modern life,” but ultimately these phrases are just small parts of a much larger context–they are syntactically playful leaves falling en masse. If you try to hold on to any one part too tight it will crumble into bits. And it will become terribly unfunny. Ultimately, it is the effect of the words and phrases washing over the audience, the repetition and transmogrification of ideas through multi-media play that creates the humor and meaning in Reggie Watts and his talented cohorts’ theater.
The crew of actors are strong and have managed to create a quick-paced, boldly disjointed, complicated montage that deals thematically with our solipsistic world of web identities, nostalgia, the humor of sex, corporate and film spoofs, and more. The sketches are not simply satirical but rather gently poking fun at things in order to allow the audience to draw their own conclusions about the subject matter. The subtlety of this kind of humorous theater actually requires that the audience members do a bit of mental work to stay in the game.
The troupe uses the space in the Winningstad theater well, using light to highlight characters or mood, or filling the room with darkness when the attention should be on sound (I could hear but not see the shuffling and squirming in my row during the mock cunnilingus conversation–a brief and delightfully off-putting sound experiment between sketches). The performance is so playful, so full of jerky transitions from sketch to sketch, that I imagine some audience members might start to become disengaged with the performance. But it is precisely at the moment when the audio/visual onslaught seems capable of steamrolling some less attentive audience members right out of their interest for the performance, that Reggie launches into a short story. It is a funny, nostalgic story. Told well and with the flair of a great storyteller.
All in all, the performance walks the line between “working” and not. But it does seem like that is all part of the point. The piece is called Transition, after all. The endless stream of surprises tricked me into thinking I might find a pattern and predict what might come next. But time after time I was foiled, belly laughing in my seat. During the song portions, Reggie’s “10-octave” voice reached into new genres and sounds, sweet, soulful or grinding depending on the song. When I emerged from the theater into a pink sky over downtown I began to compute the absurd equation of what I had just experienced (akin to DEEVOLUTION + REVELATION = DEVILATION). As I walked I chuckled at the name “Chatherine” and marveled at the simile that racism is like a statue in a modern art museum surrounded by all different kinds of people on a circular bench assessing and discussing it. “It takes all kinds of people to make racism work,” Reggie’s voice bumped through my head and I had to laugh. Again. In this way, Transition achieved what it set out to do. It is a delightful, funny, provocative, multimedia extravaganza. But not only that. It gives you something to think about.
–Emily Strelow