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picture - Offending the AudienceTheater Review

by Harvey Perr

published February 6, 2008


Offending The Audience

now playing Off Off Broadway through February 23

at The Flea Theater


Ever since I sat through the revival of Peter Handke’s Offending the Audience at the Flea, I have been trying to imagine under what circumstances this diatribe might still work as a viable hour in the theater. Well, I suppose, if a serious Broadway producer, at a performance of a hit Broadway play, let the curtain go up – to an unsuspecting Broadway audience out on their usual spree tasting the boulevard fare which, after all, is what most Broadway entertainment is – on a bare stage, and four actors, none of them the stars the audience came to see (four, as Handke originally intended, or twenty-two, as Jim Simpson provides us with in his production; it makes no real difference), and they told the audience that this is “no play,” and then proceeded to deliver an essential lecture on what theater is not and what it could be, then it might – it just might – create wild rebellion. Even after forty-two years, this attack on the complacency of audiences, having found its proper audience, would get its teeth back.


But an audience that finds its way into the Downstairs space at The Flea is an audience which, walking in, is already adventurous in spirit, an audience that has some idea that they are not going to see the tired and the conventional. In brief, does a theater which has already given us, this season alone, two such different but equally eccentric theatrical experiences as Will Eno’s Oh, The Humanity and other exclamations and Adam Rapp’s Bingo With the Indians, need to tell us that we should explore our reasons for going to the theater?


Perhaps, if we felt a need to talk back to the actors, if only to see if they would respond or merely scramble back to the words of the play (which is “no play”), sparks could conceivably fly. But Mr. Simpson’s young and attractive cast do not really threaten us; they flirt with us. And, if truth be told, the natural instinct of the audience is to flirt right back, not to give them a hard time. So, in the end, when the cast stands there staring at us as we disconsolately leave the Downstairs space and make our way upstairs to the street, we are right back where we started. Not much has changed. The desired effect of Handke’s no-play is lost. Ah, well, Flea, ah, well, Bats, back to work! We, the audience, are always ready to return to your theater and risk being offended.   


harveyperr @




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