Confabulation #2: Isabella Rossellini’s ‘Green Porno – Live on Stage’ at BAM (with Tom Sellar)

confabulationsIn the Confabulations series, I instigate a virtual “public conversation” about a “live event” that some interesting person and I both happened to experience. To inspire a Confabulation, a “live event” might be a telecast, a livestreamed webcast, or one of those “live in HD” things at your local cineplex. Or it might be an actual “live” festival, concert, stageshow or somesuch. As a general rule, though, my confab partner and I will not have been in the same spot (day/time/place/row/etc) at the time of the “live event” and thus our ostensibly shared experience of the event will always be at some remove. Also, given my tastes, I suspect that very few Confabulation-worthy events will be what you might call “highbrow.”

When I started to think about this Confabulations series, I really wanted to talk about “live” events that straddled entertainment platforms…theatre on tv, film on stage, dance on the internet, that kind of thing. And, really, could there be a more perfect genre-splitting live event than Isabella Rossellin’s Green Porno – Live on Stage at BAM? I just knew I had to find someone to confabulate with about it, but finding a co-confabulator turned out to be trickier than I expected. But thanks to luck (and a well-timed facebook plea), I was fortunate to find an ideal collaborator: Tom Sellar, editor of the journal Theater and freelance critic for the Village Voice. The confabulation below distills a series of email exchanges Tom and I shared in late January 2014.

GP-BAMBRIAN HERRERA: I’m curious why folks would want to see Green Porno: Live on Stage. I mean, I *totally* wanted to. The second I saw the BAM announcement I knew I wanted to go. I’ve watched all the films. I’ve taught most of them. I have the book. Still, even as a Green Porno fan who was totally in, I just can’t imagine why anyone would want to pay $120 to see this. What got you there?

TOM SELLAR: I’ve been writing for the Village Voice since 2001— about 13 years — as a reviewer and journalist. One of the things I enjoy about the (freelance) gig is that it gets me to a pretty broad spectrum of performances: everything from Broadway musicals to the latest dysfunctional American family play, rarely mounted classics, conceptual dance, and new performance art forms. As I recall this one was a relatively last-minute assignment from my editor, who needed the review the morning after the performance. I arranged a ticket and went without having looked at the press materials, so I really had no preconceptions whatsoever.GP-9482851.28

I had a blast. I found the live stage version to be a captivating adaptation of everything I so love about the video series, with some intriguing additional elements. But my partner (who likes pretty much everything and who gifted me the tickets as a holiday present) thought the whole thing “very odd.” And though he didn’t hate it, I’m pretty sure he didn’t much care for it.

What did your partner find problematic?

If I were to guess, I think it was the show’s lackadaisical approach to things like, oh, narrative and character and precision. I don’t think he minded that there really was no particular immediacy to why she was talking to us, or that there was no emotional arc. But I do think it flummoxed him that this was on a stage at BAM. And not on a YouTube video, or in a college lecture hall.

I wonder why we just went with it, more or less.GP-tapemeasure

I thought it smart that Rossellini took several familiar didactic performance modes — academic lecture, autobiographical solo-show, artist talk — and then sorta did them all at once, all a bit sloppily.

I’ve never seen the Sundance Channel series where these short films first appeared, so I went to the stage performance with very few expectations aside from expecting to see a famous model/actress in person. (Somehow the old-fashioned term “actress” seems to fit Rossellini better than “actor,” which I normally use for performers of both genders.)

It is interesting how Rossellini inhabits the “actress” role, both in reference to her mother (the revered Ingrid Bergman) but also in what she calls her “method” approach of imagining herself experiencing what these critters experience. But Rossellini’s also got something that comes I think from the commercial model’s peculiar alchemy: transforming the banal into the fascinating in order to convey a fairly strident message (ie “buy this overpriced thing”).

I remember seeing Rossellini in cosmetics ads and of course in some of her movie roles when I was growing up. And didn’t she appear in a Madonna video and even on The Muppet Show? I suppose her name is vaguely synonymous with glamour and sophistication to me: she is beautiful, self-possessed, Italian, cosmopolitan…

I liked how Rossellini seemed to have made the choice to be both totally self-possessed and also always just a bit “off.” So what if she loses her place in the script? Or spits a cherry tomato too far? She’s Isabella Rossellini!GP-greenporno4

I dug the video sequences: colorful, clever, and extremely witty.

I too loved the films projected large. I find them to be just so delightfully weird. And discomfiting. And hilarious. And pretty brilliant. I adore the preschoolish DIY aesthetic. And Rossellini’s charismatic awkwardness.GP-greenporno3.jpg?w=177&h=250

I like your description of her quality of “charismatic awkwardness”; it’s apt. Rossellini has so much poise on stage, and she absolutely radiates good will. So I didn’t ultimately care that we were watching a lecture with wacky video recreations of insect sex somewhat repetitively.

To my mind, though, one of the stage show’s most notable accomplishments comes from its cleverness in presenting some of the films, while actually re-staging others. Like, there is a dragonfly film. It’s quite effective as a video, but the choice here to use rubber gloves and paper cut-outs becomes equally instructive and even more fascinating.

The one that stays with me is the one of Rossellini as a duck. There was something so absurd about her costume and, of course, about seeing Rossellini demonstrate duck-mating.GP-seduce_me_s1_duck_01

When I teach this material I use it to introduce the idea of “the explicit body” — both in terms of exposed flesh and in terms of depictions of exposed flesh doing sex stuff. I prize the abstraction the series offers with all that nylon and felt and construction paper. But something — I’m not sure what — about Rossellini’s restagings reminded me that this is actually really all about sex. Maybe it was her up there, on stage, simulating stimulation, I don’t know. But this definitely had more, umm, charge to it than I’ve noticed before…

I found it fundamentally charming but perhaps a bit overdrawn as an evening. Rossellini knew it was both highly entertaining and a little bit daft to put on funny costumes and show us various kinds of natural reproduction, but she does it with great form out of her commitment to nature causes. And because she knows she can pull it off.

Yes. In Green Porno, Rossellini seems to be exploiting whatever “it” was that made her one of the most successful actress/models on the planet but, here, she’s using that “it” to sell her environmental message on behalf of the planet. I left BAM appreciating her effort as one of the most savvy, stealthy and strategic deployments of the peculiar skills cultivated by celebrity I think I’ve ever seen. Daft, yes, but deft too.gp-GREEN-PORNO

So, should we close this out?

I guess we should cap it here.

Thanks so much for playing along!

Thanks for the invitation.

Click here to see Tom’s VOICE review of Green Porno. For a complete archive of all my Confabulations, click here. And if you have a suggestion for a future Confabulation (or would like to participate as a co-confabulator), just contact me through the regular channels, as linked under the “About” tab above.

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One thought on “Confabulation #2: Isabella Rossellini’s ‘Green Porno – Live on Stage’ at BAM (with Tom Sellar)

  1. Pingback: CONFABULATIONS | per•form•ations

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