KPBS AIRDATE: May 13, 1992
If you’re feeling oppressed by information overload, by the constant barrage of media hype, celebrity status and political polemic, maybe you shouldn’t go see John Fleck in “A Snowball’s Chance in Hell.” On second thought, maybe you should.
In the prologue, Fleck appears dressed as a gnome-like monk, on his knees in a hooded bathrobe, scooting across the floor, writing on an unraveling roll of toilet paper, as he himself unravels, spewing forth a brilliant, frightening, rapid-fire stream-of-consciousness that captures every cultural cliché in the country. He wraps them all together as he wraps himself and the playing space in the unending wad of toilet paper that our mass media has become. One thing melds into the next. “Over the river and through James Woods” meets “the big bad Wolf Blitzer.” “To be or not to be” crashes into “Be Bop a Lula.” We learn — as if we didn’t know — that “all of Rodney King’s men couldn’t put him together again.”
Fleck works himself into a frenzy. He moans, groans, sighs, snarls, foams and froths, chokes and spits up. He seems not to be able to control his hands — or his mouth. But of course, he’s in impeccable control.
He dissolves into a terrifyingly typical husband and wife, going through the thigh-high stack of newspapers. HE gruffly rails with frustration and bigotry; SHE compulsively clips coupons. We hear quotes from all the great spiritual leaders of our society: Dr. Joyce Brothers, Erma Bombeck, Dear Abbey, John Bradshaw, Eric Fromm, Eric Estrada.
As he continues to lose his mind to the sound byte, Fleck picks up newsstand magazines and becomes the characters he reads about. There’s a piece from True Confessions, one from the National Enquirer. In fact, on every seat in the house, there’s a magazine, some other waste of a tree that daily drags on our attention.
With his putty-face and sweaty T-shirt, Fleck is a whirling dervish who pummels us and himself almost to oblivion. He dances with someone in the audience; he humps another’s leg. He is desperately trying to find some meaningful communication somewhere, anywhere. He’s George and Barbara Bush on their first date, he’s a drooling, low-life sleazeball running a wet T-shirt contest, he’s a torch singer, a tango-dancer, all the characters in a pulp novel.
He tries to listen to soothing self-improvement tapes with calming affirmations, but they start to melt into each other and overlap meaninglessly, driving him even further over the edge. In the final moments of his break-neck sixty minutes, he is virtually catatonic, stripped down to his underwear, floating across the space in a rolling bathroom, trying to see some identity in the mirror, all the while performing ablutions using every cleansing and beautifying product hawked on TV and radio. He winds up on the living room chair covered with shave cream and cotton balls, made up like a clown, staring out at us with vapid, vacant eyes, a fun-house mirror distortion of what we all could become.
It’s a virtuoso performance, a powerful and disturbing piece. A bit self-flagellating, perhaps. But so’s our culture. This is not a very personal life-story, like so many other performance works. It’s a very political piece, a scathing indictment of our society.
If you can take it, you should see it. And leave your magazine on the seat where you found it. You’ve got enough junk reading at home. Don’t we all?
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1992 Patté Productions Inc.