An Evening of Casual Precision With Holly Hughes
Theatre Gigante hosts DOG AND PONY SHOW
Holly Hughes has played many roles over the course of her life. In he Dog And Pony Show (Bring Your Own Pony) she talks about quite a few of those roles. The seasoned performance artist comes to Milwaukee this weekend for a casual spoken word piece abut her love of dogs and various other things. Staged as it is locally in the intimate space at Paddy's Pub, this is a casual, conversational piece between one woman and her audience that feels exceedingly comfortable. In the past she's challenged audiences and made a point of making them uncomfortable to various effects. Here she just wants to talk about dogs and things. (But mostly dogs.) And that's perfectly okay because it does feel so comfortable.
Your admission to the show comes with a drink ticket. Have a beer and listen to a celebrated feminist performance artist talk mostly about dogs. It's fun. Hughes has a way of stringing together ideas that isn't entirely linear. It would appear to be a genuinely stream-of-conscious monologue were it not for the fact that it is so clearly composed. Hughes' delivery of some of the material seems a bit overwrought in places, but one gets the feeling that this is no different from how she might be talking about dogs and feminism and things casually at a bar even if it WEREN'T in front of a large group of people with a screen and video production and admission and drink tickets and things. She has a way of thinking about things. And she has a way of talking about things. The fact that there's an audience there is what makes it art. And that's okay. Because it is so very, very comfortable.
The video projection adds surprisingly little to the performance. It works best as a backdrop with various pictures of dogs from throughout history. On a purely pragmatic level it plants Hughes in a tasteful muted, thematic spotlight of what is a very, very visually cluttered second floor space at Paddy's.
Hughes' narrative moves from lesbianism to feminism to dogs and other things. There's language in here that is carefully crafted and delivered with a kind of painstakingly precise informality that kind of feels like it was lined-up under an electron microscope. This isn't a bad thing. I've seen people do it in casual conversation. In casual conversation, you always feel like you have some social obligation to say something. Here you can just sit back and observe, which makes it . . . as I say . . . comfortable. And though her intonation might seem a bit overwrought in places, the exaggeration serves to maintain a pleasant level of entertainment throughout.
n the course of Hughes' play ethic onstage, she does reveal some interesting insights. There's a very meticulous theory on The Wizard of Oz that she vividly brings to the stage. She talks about reproductive issues with her male poodle in a way that makes me want to use the word "hilarious," even though I won't. She talks about her own experiences with what must be a very busy collection of dogs with a genuine love for rendering the moments. And the whole thing ends on this beautifully-rendered piece of poetry about dogs that feels like it was carved out of a block of pure inspiration.
Here's the ting: I'm a cat person. (Actually right now I'm a toddler person…babies have a way of drawing all the attention away from ANYTHING.) But there is this contemporary theory that dogs were vigorously domesticated, which is what I always disliked about them . . . that over-eagerness. And the theory goes that cats came to domesticate themselves. They hung out around humans, knew a good thing when they saw it and they moved in. They're not pets. They're roommates. That's what I like about cats . . . but Hughes has a way of describing the dog's interaction with humans in a way that almost makes them as appealing to me as cats. And it kind of makes me wish she'd spent more time talking about them . . . more time away from biography and more time in the poetry. . . but that would have been another show altogether.
Theatre Gigante's presentation of Holly Hughes' Dog And Pony Show runs through Saturday the 21st at Paddy's Pub on 2339 North Murray Avenue. For ticket reservations, call 414-961-6119.