Simon Fujiwara's play "The Boy Who Cried Wolf," presented at the Abrons Art Center as part of Performa 11, is a wry, smart piece of light comedy that would be at home in any mainstream theater. Fujiwara's lovely revolving set, an ancient, effective piece of stage machinery, includes three well-designed backdrops for his personal storytelling. Though he disrupts his own narratives with fake on-the-spot changes in the script, which are clearly well rehearsed, when Fujiwara sticks to his stories, he's got a good thing going. Then a sausage falls to the stage—more on that later.
"The Boy Who Cried Wolf," like many performances at Performa 11, is about the artist himself-in this case, it's a blatantly fictionalized self, and hence the title.
In the first of three acts, Fujiwara interviews the child who will represent him in the play he is putting on about himself. The play-within-the-play, which his child costar Isaac Jin Solstein later mimes, is a moment of absurdity and epiphany. When Fujiwara was a child, the Tate built a satellite museum in his remote seaside town in Cornwall. Fujiwara says he realized his destiny as both a gay man and an artist when his erect penis touched the "Stripe Painting" by Patrick Heron in the museum. The name of this first act, "The Mirror Stage," refers to a 1949 piece on child development by Lacan, Fujiwara explains, showing us a photograph of the book on the projection screen overhead. The set in this act includes two large angled mirrors, and between them a copy of Heron's colorful painting.
Cleverly, Fujiwara sits at a table with his back to the audience, because, he explains, he is in a sense not there, present only through the child actor portraying him. Doing "mirror" exercises, in which actors copy the action or speech of their acting partner, Fujiwara and his child costar hilariously repeat, "My name is Simon Fujiwara." It's true, too.
After pretending that he's not presenting a play when he's acting in the one that he wrote, Fujiwara heaps on a few extra devices in the first act by reading stage directions from the fake play that's not being done, just as in the second act he reads passages from the fake novel he's not writing in the play that he hasn't written and isn't acting in. It was in the first act, while he read the fake character description from the apocryphal play, that the sausage, part of the set from the second act, accidentally dropped from the fly space above the stage, startling everyone. No one was hurt and the play continued, but the accident demonstrated the truly spontaneous reactions that a real surprise creates.
The second act, "Welcome to the Hotel Munber," is a well-honed script. Again, the story here is a fantastical and sexual conflation of events. The artist re-imagines his father as a homosexual on the make in Franco's Spain, where Fujiwara's parents owned a hotel. Besides a racy encounter with a policeman, his father turns the architecture of the hotel into the means of his sexual satisfaction with a tube of Vaseline. Fujiwara says that he never lived in the hotel—he was conceived years after his parents left Spain—and there aren't pictures, so he invents the exquisitely kitschy set of the weathered hotel bar, complete with wire guitar decorations and the requisite sausages and Spanish hams hanging from a rack. Head bowed and face invisible behind a broad-brimmed hat, a living parody of an Andalusian guitar player (Thomas Holzhausen) accompanies Fujiwara's narration.
The third act, which is the newest plot and the only one that has not been performed before in high-profile contexts, is a bit weaker and more predictable. Fujiwara discusses a camera he found in a taxi. The camera had photos from three weddings the owner had attended, Fujiwara claims, and, while narrating, he displays the pictures the screen above the set. He discusses the ethics of using stolen pictures and pretends to have a dispute with one of the actors about that. He redeems himself by explaining that he located the owner through Facebook.
In the final monologue, Fujiwara keeps the floor, as he does for most of the piece. Fujiwara was trained as an actor and a director, he says in the play, and it shows. A recipient of the Cartier Award, the thin, 29-year-old artist installed an elaborate piece based on an invented ancient city ("Frozen") at the Frieze Art Fair in 2010. Fujiwara also studied architecture, which may be why his sets, apart from that flying sausage, are so well made.
He's a good enough actor that he was able to improvise after the meat missile landed and again when another set piece toppled loudly in the third act. He has a nice sense of comic timing, knowing when to let the audience have its laugh and when to push on with the story. A genuine surprise, the falling sausage woke up the actors and the audience, amplifying and showing up Fujiwara's rehearsed disruptions as narrative conventions.
"The Boy Who Cried Wolf" will be performed again tonight at 7:30 pm.
Currently on view in the group show "Redux" at New York's Cristin Tierney Gallery (through Feb. 4) are two works by Joe Fig, both related to his 200