Cold trippin', direct from Berlin
Thirty seconds after we walk into Bindlestiff Studio, S. is sold on kInDeRdEuTsCh pRoJeKtS’ production of “Arctic Hysteria.” He instantly recognizes their preshow music as being a Neue Deutsche Welle song he’s currently enamored with, “Eisbaer” by Grauzone, in which the author expresses a deep desire to be a polar bear. “Alles waer so klar!”
“This is the song I was just talking about,” he exclaims with satisfaction (it’s true) as we settle into our seats to gaze at the Community Thrift meets Matthew Barney set (designed by Sue Rees): corrugated white pressboard walls, an easy chair and matching ottoman covered in leopard print, an uncomfortable-looking brocade couch, a static-filled television set in the corner, a silver decanter and goblets on a roller tray. An innocuous enough setting for a play named for a contested form of madness particular to the arctic, supposedly characterized by uncontrolled outbursts, mimicry, echolalia, and coprophagia; keywords which might also be used to describe a typical Saturday night out in San Francisco.
A musical introduction performed by Stefanie Fiedler, aka Cuddles, sets the tone, “we disappear into madness,” she croons, outfitted in a fantstical snowflake-white majorette outfit with a matching knitted polar bear cap. “I feel nothing…and I haven’t for a long time.” After she exits, her siblings Goneregan (Thorsten Bihegue) whose amalgamated name is one of several vague King Lear markers scattered throughout the piece, and Fool (another Lear reference, played by Molly Shaiken), enter the room, discussing their coerced reunion. A cantankerous voiceover begins to querulously direct them and finally to inhabit their bodies, repeating a promise to each that “this will all be yours someday,” deftly setting up an atmosphere of suspicion and sibling rivalry.
Veering away from Shakespearean cliché, their rivalry takes on animalistic overtones as Fool and Cuddles spar with and attempt to devour each other while rolling around the floor, growling and gnawing. A sequence of denunciation sessions in which each comes up with intensely creative insults for the others (“you little shit, I saw you picking lice and eating it!”) morphs into a long-winded soliloquy from Goneregan on ruling the sea, during which a staggering number of stuffed toys make their first appearance, quizzically peeking over the back of the sofa, floating through the air, propelled by the silent hands of Cuddles and Fool.
Lost yet? Us too, honestly, and we’ve only reached the halfway point. Still to come is a riotous game of musical chairs, colorful costume changes, a tender interlude with a polar bear, an incestuous cuddle puddle leading to the “happiest death ever recorded—death inside the anus of a walrus,” intense flirtations with a televised image of an Arctic hunter, German-language interludes, penguin dances, prospective eye-gouging, and a revelation of filicide. For a play set in a sterile white world, it’s a murky and fantastical carnival for the senses, punctuated with bursts of childish enthusiasm, nonsensical verbiage, and giddy violence, pushing the audience into the disorienting depths of the apocryphal Inughuit malady for which it is named. Indeed, it might be the only play running that makes the comparative excesses of life on Sixth Street seem relatively tame.