Hilton Als reviews Nature Theater of Oklahoma for the New Yorker and it is not pretty.
To review: NTOO, from NYC, have been serious critical darlings, inspiring breathless panegyrics in America and Europe for their lo-fi
The Village Voice:
One of New York’s most talented ensembles… their shows are smart, witty, highly physical, and eager to twist notions of theatricality.
The New York Times:
Nature Theater of Oklahoma is that rare, wondrous type of theatrical sustenance: You leave blissful and sated, yet wanting more.
Hilton Als last January:
[NTOO's] “Poetics: A Ballet Brut,” which was just part of the Public Theatre’s “Under the Radar” festival, demonstrated how much fun the pie-in-the-face aesthetic can be.
And so on.
They came to Seattle, inspired a de-Suggests (it wasn't that the emperor was wearing no clothes so much as the emperor was in a ratty t-shirt and stained boxer shorts) and a spirited argument in Slog comments:
I fucking love this show full stop... The piece is an attempt, I think, to be heartfelt and real, and to use a million alienation devices (bad accents, overacting, repetitive found gestures, goofy costumes, dance breaks) as a way of letting you listen to everyday conversations without associating them with specific persons or situations (the only proper nouns, till the very end, are brands of soda, movie actors, New York City, and acronyms for office forms). Through that transmutation, the conversations don't actually take on weight, but you can hear in them a general hum of loneliness, desire, frustration, ambition, and love. (The alienation devices, I should point out, are also often crack-you-up funny.)
"No Dice" is a gimmick plain and simple. It was an effective gimmick for the time and place it was produced but it is still a gimmick and over the course of time this gimmick, like all gimmicks has become dated and worn thin... It's Pop Art with a short shelf life
(A side note: A friend of an On the Boards employee didn't like No Dice. That employee told Pavol of NTOO. Pavol responded: "Tell your friend he has no soul." The employee was unsure whether Pavol was kidding.)
NTOO has a new show called Rambo Solo (the title says it all). Als is having none of it:
For ninety-five minutes, in “Rambo Solo” (at the Soho Rep), an execrable piece conceived by Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper, who head the Nature Theatre of Oklahoma, we watch as Oberzan runs around the narrow stage that substitutes for his apartment (much of the audience sits on pillows on the floor, perhaps to give us a sense of what hanging out at Oberzan’s place might feel like), acting out the movie in a grating, Stallone-inflected accent and providing more commentary than anyone could stand.
As Oberzan demands our attention—he barely takes a breath—we are confronted with video projections of the actor, actually in his apartment, doing the same things we’re watching him do live. Anger mounts at the sheer hubris of this enterprise. It may be a commentary on the nature of performance, but it is itself an utterly objectionable one, reflective only of a certain kind of chic-inflected privileged-white-boy solipsism. Watching “Rambo Solo,” you learn less than nothing about absurdist theatre, but, as you leave the show, you may feel absurd for having sat through it.
It is the duty of the regional critic to fight the provincialism of New York*, and the hype surrounding NTOO and Will Eno are examples of both. So it's heartening to see the New Yorker call out NTOO.
And all you artists who've been poorly reviewed, then seethed at seeing less-deserving artists get laurels (and let's be honest: aren't they all less deserving?)—I can feel your schadenfreude all the way over here.
* Belated credit where it's due: I first heard that line from the mouth of Jen Graves.