Niki Tulk's Tender "Food" Buttons
The Dresser, not be trumped by the Steiny Road Poet's review of the Van Reipen Collective's theatrical interpretation of Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons section 1 "Objects," offers her look and connections to Van Reipen's production of section 2 "Food" at the Theater for the New City in New York. First, Dear Reader, a little background.
THE STEINY BACKGROUND
What is Tender Buttons ? A book-length love poem in three sections that the Steiny Road Poet has been studying deeply inside the discussion forums of the Coursera massive open online course (MOOC) Modern & Contemporary American Poetry (ModPo) by University of Pennsylvania professor Al Filreis. Steiny has documented that study starting with this blogpost: Stepping on Tender Buttons: "A Carafe, That Is a Blind Glass." However, Steiny has only completed study of Tender Buttons "Objects." Full disclosure, Steiny has just begun study of "Food," so if this interests you, you can sign up for ModPo until November 15, 2014, and find the Tender Buttons study group inside the discussion forums. (Once ModPo ends, course enrollment ends, but the discussion forums and study of Tender Buttons will continue until the 2015 ModPo offering in the fall.)
Therefore, the Dresser is perfectly at her ease to make what anyone can of a dramatic interpretation of Tender Buttons "Food." One other thing to know is VP treated each of the three sections of Tender Buttons as separate theater productions. This means there were different directors for each production: Gary Heidt: "Objects," Cara Scarmack and Christopher Weston: "Rooms," and Niki Tulk: "Food."
FOOD VERSUS OBJECTS
While Gary Heidt's treatment of "Objects" was musical with another text underpinning how the dozen players and musicians moved, Niki Tulk's approach to "Food" was on the surface much simpler. In "Food," original recorded music by Mark Tulk with cello by Niki Tulk was used to introduce, shade, or transition from one part of the production to the next (well, except for Cupcake Gross' chicken striptease) and only three actors spoke the entire Steinian text. During the 90-minute production, Cassandra V. Chopourian impressively delivered the majority of Stein's words. Not only did she know the words, which are not logically written, but also she infused the words with feeling, just as Stein does when she opens the "Food" section:
In the inside there is sleeping, in the outside there is reddening, in the morning there is meaning, in the evening there is feeling. In the evening there is feeling. In feeling anything is resting, in feeling anything is mounting, in feeling there is resignation, in feeling there is recognition, in feeling there is recurrence and entirely mistaken there is pinching.
Tender Buttons , section 2 "Food," first subpoem "Roastbeef."
THE TENTERHOOKS OF FOOD
Memorably Chopourian, while simulating hanging from a meat hook, slowly recited the 36 stanzas (1757 words) of "Roastbeef." and then 13 stanzas (534 words) of "Mutton.". It was an uncomfortable stretch for one actor or even for an audience member, but it was a tour de force.
But wait, the Dresser emailed Niki Tulk and she said, "She [Chopourian] hung from the meathook for the first 10 mins or so of Roastbeef, and then hopped down, explored the dress, got dressed, plucked the chicken and set the table ... so most of her work was off the meathook, but the time at the beginning was very much a 'close-up' section and probably felt longer than it was, due to that intensity."
Allow the Dresser to give some examples of those lines:
Please be the beef, please beef, pleasure is not wailing. Please beef, please be carved clear, please be a case of consideration.
Search a neglect. A sale, any greatness is a stall and there is no memory, there is no clear collection.
(These two stanzas are 24 and 25 from "Roastbeef.")
Mouse and mountain and a quiver, a quaint statue and pain in an exterior and silence more silence louder shows salmon a mischief intender. A cake, a real salve made of mutton and liquor, a specially retained rinsing and an established cork and blazing, this which resignation influences and restrains, restrains more altogether. A sign is the specimen spoken.
A meal in mutton, mutton, why is lamb cheaper, it is cheaper because so little is more. Lecture, lecture and repeat instruction.
(These are the last two stanzas from "Mutton.")
Why does Chopourian carry so much of the text delivery? Well, besides being exceptionally good at memorization and delivery, one of her fellow collective members Lauren Farber has the dual challenge of muscular dystrophy and legal blindness. Nonetheless Farber's resume is substantial with fifty years experience in dance and movement theater that includes ballet, mime, and Butoh. She has worked with such experimental companies at Margolis Brown Adaptors, Joan Merwyn's Sound Image Theater, The Construction Company, and currently Van Reipen Collective.
In an informal interview after the closing show on October 19, 2014, Director Niki Tulk said one of the interesting challenges for this production was how to use Farber's talents and limitations to best advantage. Two aspects of Farber's MS are she has limited capacity for memorization and she needs to rest with some frequency, meaning her lines needed to be short and during the intermissionless show, Farber needed an opportunity to lie down and rest. For example, as the text progressed to "Milk." and "Eggs." (subpoems 7 and 8), Farber climbed up on the table and got covered over by a cloth that Chopourian moved around and over her colleague.
Climb up in sight climb in the whole utter needles and a guess a whole guess is hanging. Hanging hanging.
Kind height, kind in the right stomach with a little sudden mill.
Cunning shawl, cunning shawl to be steady.
In white in white handkerchiefs with little dots in a white belt all shadows are singular they are singular and procured and relieved.
No that is not the cows shame and a precocious sound, it is a bite.
Cut up alone the paved way which is harm. Harm is old boat and a likely dash.
THE CRAZY GLUE OF GAMES & FORMS
Tulk said that what kept the action moving forward and helped the cast remember their lines was a gaming strategy--"games (the ones that get passed on as if by osmosis from generation to generation of children) contain structures of movement and text--often nonsense text--that the smallest child can remember. They cannot always remember the words out of context, but once moving in that familiar pattern, the words come as if unbidden. There is a sense in which text and movement are both stored in muscle memory, and finding kinesthetic structures/choreographic forms that facilitate that is powerful in creating resonance with the audience on a visceral level, and also for actors learning 'nonsense' text (or any text)."