"This is so wild--the semiotics of it! Do you even know what semotics means?"
--David Levine, Habit
David Levine's theater/installation piece, Habit--co-presented by the currently nomadic Performance Space 122 and FIAF's Crossing the Line Festival--inhabits several rooms of an unremarkable ranch house. What is remarkable, though, is that this house and all of its dismal furnishings have been painstakingly assembled within the bare, unused confines of the original Essex Street Market near Rivington Street on Manhattan's Lower East Side. The audience views the action by peering through or parting several diaphanous curtains and gazing in on dusty Halloween decor dispiritedly strewn around and the typical hipster mess of well-worn electronics, cheap living room furniture and empty beer cans. Kudos to scenic designer Marsha Ginsberg for the cheesy, fascinating macro- and micro-details of all of this, right down to the food-stained menu stuck to the refrigerator and the fine layer of undisturbed dust. Achoo!
Sure, pull the curtains aside, if you wish. No one stops you. If you want to reach past the window and slap some sense into one or another of Levine's characters, you're often close enough to do so. Lucky for the actors, I restrained myself, and I trust most other people will, too, though the temptation lingers through the hour-plus of increasing intrigue and tension.
It all starts off banal enough. "Nobody likes Frank Zappa," argues the curiously snide, menacing Doug (well played, in the cast I saw today, by shark-eyed Ben Mehl). "Nobody likes Captain Fucking Beefheart," he harangues his brother and housemate Mitch (Brian Bickerstaff). In return, the rangy, hapless Mitch can only offer a feeble retort, "But The Grateful Dead are okay?"
The (unwanted--by Doug, vaguely-wanted--by Mitch) presence of a blowsy cokehead named Viv (Eliza Baldi) introduces a few more critical areas of hostility between the brothers, which I will not reveal. Not that revealing any of this story would make a difference one way or another. That the plot of this thing is not really the point of this thing will become obvious once you experience it.
Your experience as a watcher is the point. Looking through those windows, figuring out where and how quickly to trot in order to catch the next batch of action, wondering if the "sleeping" Doug--one hand resting in a suspect location under the bedcovers--will start masturbating in front of your very eyes...all of this is the point. Getting to a place where you find yourself also looking hard at your fellow voyeurs as they gaze through windows on the opposite side of the house--that, too, might be the point.
If you lose interest--and you don't opt for reaching in and slapping--you can always keep an eye on the Animal Science show running on the characters' unwatched television. You know: wolves, bears, salmon swimming upstream. Wholesome family fare.
Habit runs through Sunday, September 30, open 1pm-9pm daily, featuring alternating casts. It's free and open to the public. Come and go as you please.
Essex Street Market (not the new one, though)
130 Essex Street (near Rivington Street), Manhattan