Trapped in the Brig of the Living Theatre in Red Noir


There are words to describe the experience of Anne Waldman’s Red Noir at the Living Theatre. Alas, most of them are unprintable. For the first half of the piece, Waldman and director Judith Malina offer a fairly straightforward, if not particularly theatrical, meditation on community and threat. As the principal characters speak, an ensemble of 20 underclad actors saunters along the stage’s perimeter. Occasionally, they pause and shout, in unison, “Anarchy! Sweet anarchy!”

Then Waldman and Malina grow bored with the script. An hour into the show, even as the dialogue about dangerous suitcases and potential revolution continues in the background, they instruct the chorus to remove all of the audience members’ chairs. Then each actor takes a few spectators by hand and drags them up on the perimeter platform, in a lame embodiment of the collectivist theme. Save for those with exhibitionist tendencies or starry-eyed notions about theater as a communal event, the next 30 minutes are uniquely torturous. I was patted, poked, danced about, and forced to mime. (I did somewhat enjoy one sequence that involved pulling an imaginary rope, since it meant a respite from being groped.) The whole exercise exudes the stale scent of the late ’60s, the Living Theatre’s heyday, as well as the odor of various unwashed thespians. By the time the play devolved into hugs and scattered applause, I felt positively unclean. Never has a theatrical event made me so long to run home and scald myself in the shower. Which is precisely what I did.