Edinburgh Fringe 2021
Absurdist take on philosophy and language. A present-day student and activist, Sheela joins Ludwig Wittgenstein, Paul Shepard and Walter Benjamin for a spirited game of mahjong. As they play, her energy conjures Joseph Beuys as a mythological hare.
Four characters with overcoats, bowties and pipes discuss the origins of language and representation while playing a game of mahjong on a rooftop in New York City. A quirky score of xylophone music follows the intensity of the argument as superimposed imagery of a giant rabbit (we are told representing the spirit of Fluxus artist Joseph Bueys) comments on the escalating discussion. Ultimately the “super-intellectual posturing of philosophy” is pitted against essential myths of a culture and lived experience, and the rabbit gets the last word.
Evoking the playwright Chuck Mee with a little of Wally Shawn and Andre Gregory’s “My Dinner with Andre” thrown in, the script by Barbara Yoshida is a whirlwind of ideas in the mouths of historical and representative characters.
The absurdity and playful irreverence of the filming comments on the subject matter, and although the details of the argument will be lost to many without philosophical training, the gist of piece is clear. The speed of the argument along with the absurdity of the convention pulls the viewer along on the ride. Like much of the theater created during covid, the details of the filming evoke the early days of television. There is a welcome and playful super-imposing of related imagery: a figure representing the Fluxus artist Jospeh Beuys wearing rabbit ears comments on the conversation, and cameras and microphones held by Beuys enter the screen at key moments , so that we know this moment is really important. While Sheela, the one female in the group, argues for mythology (supported by our rabbit-eared friend); it is not entirely clear that her argument actually HAS won. The theatricality of the presentation (complete with fake German accents and pipe smoke) juxtaposed to the headiness of the text, really appealed to my sense of silliness and irreverence, but I cannot help but wish that the actual tension of the 4 characters arguing had reached a theatrical conclusion- somehow I was left with words alone, telling me who had won the argument, and as the rabbit tells us, “no art can be experienced by an intellectual process alone.”
This was a fun experience, with too much embedded imagery to analyze in one viewing, and Peculiar Works is to be commended for their daring and their sense of play.