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Pan Pan Theatre, The Crumb Trail
Posted by: Dusty Hoesly
The Crumb Trail, Pan Pan Theatre’s take on the Hansel and Gretel story, is an absurdist mix of technology, wine drinking, bread making, reappropriation, dance, music, costumes, rape fantasies, and other sorts of eye-popping hoopla. However, dancing on stage as you reenact whatever’s projected on a screen behind you (such as when Pan Pan dance to famous YouTube clips) is redundant in the art world and especially at TBA. It’s not fresh; it’s just old. It’s full of sound and [mild] fury, signifying nothing. In an attempt to mimic the show’s style, I just used a cliché. While it’s certainly fun and exciting at times, to what end does all this energy go?

Near the beginning, daddy/Arthur, in the red cap, puts together ingredients for bread into the bread machine. The Hansel actor paints a white circle inside a taped-off black square. Actors walk on stage and then hang from a suspended pole, which is notable for its physical endurance (and indeed it is a very physical performance, with actors dancing frequently, playing instruments, running on stage, etc.). After a blackout, the Hansel actor reads from fictitious reviews of the play, all laudatory and all standard boilerplate for rave reviews (“if you see one show this year…”). It is self-referential and very funny, but to what purpose other than comical self-aggrandizement? Then that actor mouths Hamlet’s famous soliloquy as a pre-recorded version is played. The bread machine is actually making bread, rattling against the red wine glasses filled with wine, distracting from the recitation. It’s their Last Supper. Then they dance to Numa Numa and the Star Wars kid and the Muppets. They project videos from their own YouTube channel that portray parts of the Hansel and Gretel story. All from a MacBook onstage! Already we’re sampling and appropriating–we’re quirky and postmodern. It’s fun to be hip; it’s hip to be fun. And already we’re juggling more images and symbols than we can possibly interpret. It’s sensory overload.
In the story, the parents want more alone time to have sex, forcing the kids out of the house; mommy and daddy refuse to allow Gretel back inside the gate; daddy hunts online for underage girls to talk to on Skype while he masturbates; daddy rapes Gretel (played by the same actress who plays his daughter) by forcing bread into her mouth. Does forcing the bread into her mouth represent some sexual appetite, a communal breaking of the bread, puncturing purity, a muzzle? Does it matter? Hansel and Gretel with their pants down, touching themselves under their underwear, is neither frightening or titillating–intense actions without emotion or provocation, signifying what? Hansel says, “I’m not gay, I’m just afraid.” Is this anything more than a punchline? How about the repeated lyric, “You’re just negative and vegetarian”? Or, “There’s nothing as pathetic as a man eating crisps”? The witch/mommy/Gina sings, “You are lost in the forest of primal fear. That last line is crap, I admit. I get away with murder.” Really? You’re admitting pieces of the play are crap, and that’s okay with everybody?
In the twenty-first century, instead of the witch baking children into bread, children are preyed upon by sex perverts: but this time the danger in the virtual forest is real. And yet it’s an absurdist madcap world Pan Pan creates, so moments of terror (rape, bloody faces) are blunted in short order by comedy (funny-looking lederhosen, a gingerbread costume). If anything, by making comedy of perversity, Pan Pan is giving short shrift to the real dangers of online predators, pedophiles, and neglectful parenting. Serious issues become punchlines. The Hansel and Gretel story taught children not to be alone in the forest, for real danger lurked there. Does this show help us understand the dangers of virtual world?
The constant interruptions of the narrative, and indeed of every activity, perhaps recall the paralysis that Hamlet talks about in his soliloquy. Instead of doing nothing, these actors do everything, including running all over the stage, bouncing from one thing to the next, dancing randomly, without ever accomplishing much of anything. What are we supposed to be thinking about? Is there an insight, and is it original? Lost in a web of postmodern performance art clichés, The Crumb Trail drops and name checks as many scraps as it can link together but never leads to any particular place. And I wish it did, because the show is funny, edgy, full of energy, and I liked the actors–I just think they and we deserve more.