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Riffing on Warhol in Gob Squad’s ‘Kitchen’

DAVID BALTZER

Berit Stumpf, Nina Tecklenburg, Sarah Thom, and Sean Patten in “Kitchen (You’ve Never Had It So Good).’’

In Gob Squad’s “Kitchen (You’ve Never Had It So Good),’’ at the Institute of Contemporary Art this weekend, the Gob Squad theater collective begins to re-create the plotless and nearly eventless mid-1960s cinema experiments of Andy Warhol. The performers are behind a screen, and the audience members - some of whom will become part of the performance - watch via video projections. The intent seems to be to explore the boundaries between art, performance, and real life.

If all that sounds to you like a dose of tedious, black-turtleneck-wearing, art-school pretension, think again.

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“What’s amazing about it is how fun it is,’’ said ICA director of programs David Henry, who brought the show here after seeing it in New York last year. “I can’t tell you how much people will be laughing, how much it makes you feel good about who we are. It takes these really heavy ideas and just makes them fun and entertaining.’’

Warhol’s “Kitchen,’’ starring Edie Sedgwick, focused on the non-happenings in a small kitchen and was largely improvised - by most accounts because Sedgwick was too out of it to remember lines. Also inspiring Gob Squad are Warhol films including “Eat,’’ “Sleep,’’ and “Screen Test,’’ in which various Warhol acquaintances eat, sleep, and stare into the camera.

“We thought, how would it be if we could make a show that ate the audience?’’ says Gob Squad member Sharon Smith, who’ll take the Sedgwick part here.

Gob Squad began in Nottingham, England, in 1994, but its oft-changing membership is now based primarily in Berlin. They were shooting video experiments in an apartment kitchen a few years ago when talk came around to the topic of the Warhol film and his 1960s scene.

“We were all going, ‘Oh, yeah, I think I’ve seen ‘‘Kitchen.’’ Where was it?’ And we realized maybe we had or maybe we hadn’t, or we’d seen some images or an extract,’’ Smith says. “We decided we should never watch ‘Kitchen’ actually; we should just make a show about the mythology of thinking that we’d seen it.’’ (They did see it eventually, she says.)

In Gob Squad’s version, things quickly begin to go askew.

“They don’t know what to do. It all breaks down. ‘Is this the way it’s supposed to be?’ ‘I’m not sure. How do we know?’ ’’ says Henry. “The guy sleeping says, ‘I don’t want to sleep; I’m not tired,’ and the guy doing the silent screen test keeps talking.’’

Audience members are drafted to take over first one role and then another. The fourth wall is twisted and broken.

“We were all born in the ’70s, so the ’60s isn’t our era,’’ Smith says, “but in terms of our education and our entry into art-making, the ’60s is a very formidable time, especially the ’60s in New York, that experimental scene. . . . I think we feel quite close to it as a lineage we’ve inherited in a way.’’

“Part of what Andy Warhol was doing was making his daily life a performance,’’ Henry explains. “Gob Squad today - living in a time when one can say daily life is a performance and on Facebook we’re all stars - tries to re-create that.’’

That they’re doing it live is key.

“All the images in the three projections are live behind [the screen]. I think when we first showed it, we got the feeling that people didn’t believe what we did was live,’’ Smith says. “So now what we do is take people through the set before, when they come into the theater, and show them that we’re really there.’’

‘Satchmo’ and ‘Lear’

Shakespeare & Company’s 35th-anniversary summer season, announced this week, features founding member and director of training Dennis Krausnick playing the title role in “King Lear’’ and Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis as Prospero in “The Tempest.’’ Apollo Dukakis, Olympia’s brother, will play Gloucester in “Lear’’ and Gonzalo in “The Tempest.’’

The other two main-stage productions are the Split Knuckle Theatre’s “Endurance,’’ in which Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic adventure inspires a Hartford insurance man trying to survive in today’s corporate world, and “Satchmo at the Waldorf,’’ with John Douglas Thompson starring in the New England premiere of Terry Teachout’s one-man play about the jazz giant.

The summer season runs May 25-Sept. 2. Specific performance dates and complete casting will be announced when tickets go on sale Feb. 14.

New Huntington fellows

John Oluwole ADEkoje, Eleanor Burgess, and David Valdes Greenwood are the latest playwriting fellows at the Huntington Theatre Company. The fellows receive a grant, participate in a writers’ collective, and have access to the staff and sometimes the stages of the Huntington while developing their work.

ADEkoje’s “Cry Baby Jones’’ was part of the short-play program “Grimm’’ at Company One and was nominated for an Independent Reviewers of New England Award for best new play. A Boston native, Burgess has had readings in London, New York, and Los Angeles. Greenwood is the author of a dozen produced plays, including “Brave Navigator,’’ and teaches in the English department at Tufts University.

Previous fellows include Lydia R. Diamond (whose “Stick Fly’’ is now on Broadway), Melinda Lopez, Kirsten Greenidge, Ronan Noone, John Kuntz, and Ryan Landry.

Joel Brown can be reached at jbnbpt@gmail.com.
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