Posted by Dusty Hoesly
Quizoola! is the latest of Tim Etchells’ catalogue plays, performances that provoke audiences to think about language and the nature of theatre. The text consists of a list of 2,000 questions, some personal, some debatable, some factual, some hypothetical. At any given time, one of the two performers questions the other, free to ask follow-up questions, repeat questions, or extemporize. The answers are unrehearsed. Quizoola! is also a duration play, lasting six hours. Due to the conversational tone of the piece and its unpredictability, time passes quickly, as if you were spending time with friends. As you hear the questions, you think of your own replies, react to the answerer’s responses, and want to offer follow-ups of your own. There’s this sense of wanting to tap out one actor, grab the unstapled script, and ask away, or to tap out the other actor and start answering questions yourself.
At the beginning of the play, Tim Etchells questions Kent Beason. They both wear clown makeup: white faces, red lips, black lines on the eyes. A ring of white lights circles them. Windows shed evening light in their faces, later replaced with the dark sky and street lights. They sit in their two chairs, stand, or pace, sometimes acting out the interrogation room dramas of cop shows. They variously face each other and the audience, twenty-five people sitting intimately in the hot room across from them. When the respondent pauses for a long time, the questioner often repeats the question exasperatedly. If the respondent offers a tentative answer, or if the audience reacts incredulously at the answer, the questioner sometimes asks, “Are you sure?” They react honestly to the questions, laughing or thinking or moving into a more comfortable position. When one is ready to switch roles, he asks, “Are you ready to stop?” The interchanges are lively, and audiences anticipate answers or react to what is said.
Some of the spontaneous dialogue elicited sympathy from the audience. For example:
Q: “Which superhero do you most identify with?”
A: [Long pause.]
Q: “Which superhero do you most identify with?!”
Q: “Why do you identify with Spiderman?”
A: “Because I’m a loser.”
Other dialogue seemed to show the respondent’s humility and cheeky-ness:
Q: “Do you dress well?”
A: “I like to think so.”
Q: “Do you consider yourself to be the height of sartorial elegance?”
A: “I think I do okay.”
Some of the questions pointed to audience members, such as “Do you think these people are just going to stand here and watch you drink water?” or “What is that guy thinking?” When one woman’s cell phone rang, Etchells asked, “Did you remember to turn off your cell phone?” “I did,” Beason replied.
On the whole, Beason was a better answerer than questioner, mainly because so many of his questions were banal follow-ups like “Do you want to sit?” or “Are you thirsty?” He did better when he stuck with the script. However, Beason’s answers were often surprising, sensitive, and appealing. Etchells excelled at both questioning and answering, richly following lines of thought or provoking interesting reactions in his respondents.
Sadly, I only witnessed the first hour and the last hour. By the end, Beason traded questions with Jim Fletcher, both looking exhausted, their makeup melting in the sweat and heat. One piece of dialogue seemed fitting for the late hour and the taste of the show. When Beason asked Fletcher what kind of alcohol is best to get drunk on, Fletcher responded, “Whisky is the best kind of drunk. There’s something about whisky. It doesn’t take as much. It’s got this crazy kind of energy.” Likewise, Forced Entertainment’s Quizoola! has a crazy kind of energy despite its duration, one that invests theatre with a new dimension, forces audiences to react to language, and invites audiences to participate by coming and going as they please, free to join their own conversations and think about them as a kind of performance.
Posted by Dusty Hoesly