Before taking a seat at the Public’s Newman Theatre, you’re invited to a quick backstage tour. As you make your way across the stage, there are smiles and winks from actors surrounded by a tangle of low-tech movie-making gear.
Out front, too, “Gob Squad’s ‘Kitchen’ (You’ve Never Had It So Good)” looks and sounds like a backstage visit to some cutting edge performance group, though there’s a decidedly retro air. That’s apt: “Kitchen” in the lugubrious title refers to Andy Warhol’s torpid 1965 film, a vehicle for Edie Sedgewick that unfortunately had four flat tires and no distributor. (You can see why in the clips on YouTube.)
Gob Squad, a group of post-grads from the U.K. and Germany, have been knocking about Europe since the early 1990s. They’ve spent the last few weeks roaming the streets of downtown Manhattan, having bystanders participate in impromptu movies that are shown at ad hoc happenings. Now they’re in an actual theater, while still depending on the willingness of strangers.
“Kitchen” replicates the Warhol film’s cheesy, minimalist set: a couple of tables and chairs, a fridge, not much else. It’s flanked by screens on which some of the events are projected even as they’re taking place.
The performers -- four women and one man -- are trying to replicate “Kitchen,” although it has no plot. It’s about suffocating claustrophobia in the big city. Even with their cool costumes (all of them don striped sailor shirts), the Gobs experience a crisis of hipness, or rather the lack of same.
So they prowl the audience in search of people who might better play themselves and bring some sexual tension to the proceedings. The volunteers take direction through headsets from the actors they’re “playing.”
In the case of one mildly astonished young man the night I saw the show, that called for being interviewed on a bed by the appealing Sharon Smith. He squirmed when she asked him what, precisely, he meant when he said he was a feminist.
Then she asked if they could kiss. He nervously assented with a peck. She patiently explained that Warhol expected kisses to last three minutes and then showed him what Andy meant. Three minutes proved to be a very long, humid interlude.
Audience-participation is usually about as welcome as Andy Warhol movies. Yet I was intriguingly unnerved, watching that intimate scene unfold. The rest of “Gob Squad’s ‘Kitchen’” may have been old hat. But there was something transfixing about that kiss.
Through Feb. 5 at 425 Lafayette St. Information: +1-212-967-7555; http://www.publictheater.org. Rating: **
What the Stars Mean: **** Do Not Miss *** Excellent ** Good * So-So (No stars) Avoid
(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)