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At the Exponential Festival, Case Studies in Category Busting

Fine, but if only there had been more wit, style, imagination.

While one of the festival’s most anticipated selections, Leonie Bell with Local Grandma’s “We Live to Die: The Grieving Widows Club” does not open until Monday, the pieces I caught mostly fell short of their proclaimed ambitions. Many show descriptions nowadays, especially on the outer limits where Exponential dwells, tend to read like grant applications promising the excavation of Big Subjects. The reality usually turns out to be merely ho-hum — call it the “all bark and no bite” syndrome.

We were informed, for example, that Joe Hendel’s “Artificial (Man) Intelligence” is about “a menagerie of cyborg males living in the uncanny valley, exposing their cut up, hybrid psychologies to the world in order to gain a sense of control over their cybernetically deterritorialized destinies.” What we got was a shapeless digital montage of anxieties, with many lines pulled from subreddits like r/MensRights and r/CircumcisionGrief. The original posters’ toxic brew of insecurity, resentment and hostility was confounding, but it’s unclear what the show was trying to tell us about it.

Self-indulgence also hampered Braulio Cruz and John-Philip Faienza’s “Flow My Tears,” in which Cruz mused out loud for nearly an hour. Relief occasionally came in the form of electronic-music breaks. The more beat-oriented ones successfully evoked the pulsing atmosphere of a dank Berlin club — the kind of experience in which you can lose yourself, until a guy sidles up next to you to share his important thoughts. “Flow My Tears” went on to display some doom-scrolling and concluded by breezily taking Philip K. Dick’s name in vain.

Justin Halle’s “Case Studies: A New Kinsey Report,” directed by Dmitri Barcomi, took a more playful approach under the glamorous guidance of the drag queen Nancy Nogood — the closest the festival came to an old-school theatrical creation. Like “Traffic,” “Case Studies” incorporates a QR code, but no technology could make up for a rambling script that lacked rigor (a problem that plagued almost every project). Still, it’s hard to be entirely let down by a show that features a dance to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Emotion.”

In addition to “Traffic,” another work got close to fulfilling its ambition: River Donaghey’s inventive “RecursiveCast,” in which Tad and Tammy (Spencer Fox and the Exponential artistic director Theresa Buchheister) host a podcast dedicated to a science-fiction series titled “Recursive.” The show is structured like a series of podcast episodes, with the visuals duplicating a Spotify page. Donaghey nails the sci-fi lingo, with casual references to a dodecasphere, for instance, adopting as fans’ tendency to assign great importance to details.

“RecursiveCast” shares with “Traffic” a structural descent into uncontrollable disarray, with the world falling apart despite our best attempts at finding some sort of order, whether by trying to escape from a commuting disaster or by scrutinizing triviality. If there’s a lesson to be drawn, it’s that technology may have allowed the Exponential Festival to happen against daunting odds, but hey, we’re all doomed!

Circassia News

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