The Sanctuary of Hope drew a pretty strong crowd for their finale show in Ridgewood on Saturday. — Photo by Andrew Wingert
An opening sentence I’d wager is original: I decided to leave the show prematurely after having to dodge a maxi-pad hurled towards my head which was soaked in human urine.
Welcome to "The Becoming," the final show at the Sanctuary of Hope.
One uses the word "show" with hesitation, of course, because the variety acts on display at this Ridgewood basement venue seem always to amount to an impromptu traipse through Wonderland more so than planned presentation. I long ago stopped trying to extrapolate meaning or even cohesion from these talent exhibitions, but that is not to say I haven’t enjoyed them immensely. And now that they’re getting the boot from the landlords (irreverently adorning the walls: framed copies of the court documents), this last hurrah Saturday night went off with all the ostentatious fanfare one could hope for.
I counted eight acts in total, but again, my exit was hastened by the near-traumatic encounter with airborne excrement. There’s too much to cover in detail, so here are some highlights:
Cages & boxes
Sad to report, the peacocks have been released, but what would the Sanctuary be without some sort of animal presence? The replacement is a duckling — Lech — who was featured near the entrance in an elaborately decorated cage, only a room away from a rat in a trap that was suspended from the ceiling. I am told the two were found in bloody confrontation one night. Also near the entrance, a piece of performance art: three huge stacked cardboard boxes that continually crash into the wall, motored by the patient artist inside (incredibly, he kept this up all night).
Crossed wires & cross-dressed
First up, a wonderful music performance by Mitch VanDusen, who drummed on exposed piano wires with rubber xylophone mallets, an experimentation in all sorts of varying sounds and rhythms (that and the visual of a ripped-open baby grand on the floor was pretty badass). This was a subdued and focused piece compared to past Sanctuary shows, leaving me to wonder if the gang had decided to go for a quiet goodbye. Such thoughts were quickly extinguished, however, when for the next act Matthew Silver exploded onto the performance space in a fireball of energy, sporting a Jim Morrison beard and a blood-stained wedding dress, and carrying plastic reindeer under his arms. Ah, now here is the sort of thing one has come to expect. "The Man in the White Dress" (official title) draws the crowd into chants of "Yabba-dabba-doo" that soon evolve into a chorus of "Doody! Doody!". He engages a man in the audience, getting him to mirror physical movements and shout back responsorial grunts. And for a climax? The adrenaline-fueled showman (sure, adrenaline) drags a spectator to the ground, where he proceeds — along with the reindeer — to go to town like a dog on an armchair, while spraying the crowd with shouts of "You’re being enlightened! Enlightened!"
Something like showgirls, or: Act II
The music experimentation gets taken up a notch by "Dark Inside the Sun," a solo show featuring dozens of drum sticks being destroyed, the musician screaming into his guitar’s humbucker, and scraping its strings along the edge of the snare drum (very cool). More music next — sort of — as the femme trio "The Bearded Clams" walk on in bras, white beards, and fabric clam shells on their backsides, giving us a medley of improvised tunes about vaginas and how much men suck, accompanied by a dude in the corner playing a small keytar. The lead singer introduced herself as Labia before jumping into the musical tirade, which I am sad to report she did not commence with the words, "Read my lips."
Some acts have clearly been given more thought than others, and the next two took the cake Saturday night by a pretty healthy margin. All the lights in the joint cut out, and Gary Cullen, in a black scuba suit adorned with dozens of various light bulbs and lamps, proceeds with a movement and light piece done to pulsing electronica. There was nothing very complex about this, save the technical preparations, but it was great spectacle, especially after handfuls of silver confetti were tossed into the air around him. Then, as if sensing his cue, Man in the White Dress suddenly screams something about "Our souls!!" and begins dry humping Mr. Cullen’s leg as the lights bounce and the music builds to a finish.
Fortunately for our next performer, Joanne Hsieh, the bearded bride seems to have had his fill — for a while anyway — leaving her uninterrupted for a beautiful solo piece. What begins as a fantastical monologue set to metronomic beeps turns into a dance, buoyant and elegant, culminating in a blanket of white powder swirling up in the air to cover her face and body. The evening reaches a peak here, having provided comic turns of chantings and song, engaging explorations of musical creation, and body arts of various sorts that brought smiles to the faces of most everyone in the room.
Which brings us to the goddamn maxi pad. Ann Liv Young, playing a character she calls Sherri, saunters up to the stage in a bad church lady wig and corresponding trailer trash get-up, and proceeds to insult and chuck various objects at the audience. Apparently this is Sherri’s schtik (or is it spelled shlock?), talking in a southern accent and making the audience as uncomfortable as possible (witness a question posed to the room of who has ever been sexually abused, met with awkward silence; though I’m sure this one plays great in all her gigs at Rikers Island). Naturally, someone starts to heckle, and Ms. Young responds by demanding the person identify herself, after which she storms up to the perpetrator to try to improv some Don Rickles zingers.
One would wonder what the point is in all this — it would be one thing if it was funny — but there’s no time think about it, as Ms. Young has already begun to take off her clothes. The act of fitting the menstrual pad between her bare legs was more than enough to raise eyebrows, and the subsequent performance-piss drew groans. "What, you’ve never seen a girl pee before?" she yells back at us, as people sitting in the front quickly scoot away to stay dry. On a stage surrounded by a big group of people? Sorry, you’re right "Sherri," it’s just been such a long time since I saw Fergie live…
Inexplicably — but probably in karmic consequence for my dickish thoughts above — she hurls the now-drenched pad right at my head. The split-second dodging I managed to pull off was an occurrence for which I am entirely indebted to, and can now point to as the greatest accomplishment of, our 43rd President. A fat splat! and the pee pad hits the framed court documents on the wall behind me; it takes a full two seconds for the thought to occur that yes, this night has now come full circle and, fun as it’s been, it is now time to go home.