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Berlin Zoo

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Performance- "Berlin Zoo" by Peter Rose
Performance Space 122 First Avenue, NYC
By Sally Banes The Village Voice April 5, 1983

 

Halfway through "Berlin Zoo", Peter Rose sings a spiritual, "I Am a Pilgrim."That moment sums up the theme of Rose's performances, yet his pilgrimage is anything but traditional. His way is neither docile nor well-traveled, but a quest that mixes headstrong curiosity with willful outsiderhood in quite unsacred places. In a manic, anecdotal monologue, Rose recounts his (mis)adventures while looking for a place to spend the night in Berlin, beginning with his being booted out of the theater he had hoped to perform, then sleep in, and continuing with a circus, an empty lot that serves as a memorial to would-be-escapees from East Berlin, a Salvation Army Hostel, a jail. He interrupts himself to illustrate the narrative or comment on it with songs, with readings from James Joyce and Georg Büchner, with a dialogue between himself and the theater manager outraged by Rose's props, with another scene, between himself and the cops who arrest him for stealing his landlady's Volkswagen, with spirited dances in a faintly Yiddish manner. And throughout, he accompanies his narrative with simple, graphic gestures underlining the meaning of his earnest propulsive patter.

Rose's earnest is both his strength and the source of the flaws in his performance. In "Berlin Zoo" the literal gestures are motivated by the subject: Rose's difficulty in making himself understood in a foreign culture. Yet the gestures soon become a cloying mannerism. As Rose experiences his Jewishness and the memory of Nazism, through the Yiddish songs he becomes a Yeshiva boy, his arms dangling from a skinny torso that dips back awkwardly from the pelvis. In the songs and the dancing (the musical accompaniment is by Noah Shapiro, Rose sparkles.

Like the pigeons Rose watches throwing themselves against the glass dome of the railway station, or like the hero Büchner'as novel, Rose is split between seeking salvation and beating his head against a wall. He looks for love, freedom and the rootedness of history in places mired in hatred, repression, poverty and the memory of suffering. His ecstasy is pain transcended and in performance he stands witness, his vision so clear and bright that he reminds us of a Dostoyevskian "simpleton" who alone understands what is good.

 

New York City, 1983

 

"Berlin Zoo" Institute for Contemporary Art  La Jolla, California, 1986

 

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