Hollywood Fringe 2019
The Last Powerpoint truly captures everything that is great about the Fringe and its celebration of independently-produced theatre: with no one but its creator calling the shots, the piece is uncompromising in its execution, completely unique in vision, and wonderfully bizarre.
Every now and then you come across a show that, while you don’t quite understand it and have no idea where it could have possibly come from, it delights you to the core. For me, this was The Last PowerPoint. Existing within its own strange form of logic, the show is a fast, funny, and surreal trip through what I can only describe as a corporate pitch/acid trip. It’s a brilliant, bizarre, and wonderfully charming piece unlike anything I’ve ever encountered, offering a weird and wry skewering of corporate culture and neoliberal values for our post-Citizens United age.
The show centers on a presentation about disIncorporated, a company that sells the “seed potato death clock.” In his presentation, Ben blends fluent corporate marketing lingo with dadaist postmodern poetry/existential ruminations, singing and dancing to what he terms “original nufolk music,” adding in a bit of crowd work and an enduring conflict with Pam, the stingy stage manager who refuses to cooperate. From intentionally stilted diction to prolonged explanations of musical breaks that never are actually heard, Ben keeps the audience off-kilter, always readjusting to the unknown rules of his storytelling. There’s no easy “sit back and relax” moments of blind entertainment consumption—if you’re not trying to understand the logic behind his pitches, you’re marveling at his wonderfully awkward onstage focus group, watching him temporarily dissolve on top of a guitar case or disappear into a closet. Regardless of the bewildering feeling this creates, there’s a central feeling of order that Ben maintains that keeps this from spiraling out into “weird for weird’s sake.” Even if we don’t know exactly what he means, Ben appears to, and that allows us to relax into the chaos and go along for the ride.
I was not surprised to discover later that Ben is indeed the CEO and sole proprietor of disInc, which, as its website explains, “performs experimental economic maneuvers to dissolve the corporation from within and give rise to life in the corpse.” The disInc site does, indeed, sell mail order seed potato death clocks online—though audience members are lucky enough to get their own. Turns out, the entire show is linked to Ben’s PhD project in Media Arts + Practice at USC, so there’s a whole lot of depth behind its ruminations, and the audience need not worry if they fail to fully grasp the depths of this show in a brief forty minutes. Enjoyment of the show does not require a full understanding of everything that’s going on—in fact, focusing too hard on all the corporatese will likely just cause a headache. Instead, it’s best enjoyed like a magic eye—sit back and take a soft focus and see what emerges for you. There’s no right answer with this one.
The Last PowerPoint shoves corporate and capitalistic culture right back at us with a healthy dose of humor and an entirely unique voice, succeeding hugely thanks to Ben’s complete confidence in both his piece and our ability as an audience to roll with what he’s putting out there. He’s 100% committed to the strange fever dream of a show he’s created, and as an audience member I was completely drawn in by the weird spell he cast.