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1. THE CINEMATIC THEATER OF JOHN JESURUN BY RON FRIED,THE DRAMA REVIEW,1985

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THE CINEMATIC THEATRE OF JOHN JESURUN
BY RONALD K. FRIED
(PUBLISHED IN THE DRAMA REVIEW  SPRING 1985)

In the two-and-a-half years that John Jesurun has been writing, directing and designing theatre pieces, he has been called “a brilliant new creative artist” (VillageVoice) and “one of the most exciting innovators in New York theatre” (East Village Eye).
Jesurun, 33 years old, trained to become a sculptor, receiving a Master of Fine Arts degree from Yale. While still at Yale, he became interested in film. Between 1977 and 1981, he made four short independent films that were shown at small festivals. His background in sculpture and film later played a governing role in his theatre work.
Jesurun’s career as a creator of live performances began with Chang in a void moon (T 98), which he describes as a “living film serial.” The continuing series of 40 related, half-hour episodes were presented once a week in a performance area in the back of the Pyramid Club, an East Village nightclub and bar on Avenue A. Chang was followed by three longer pieces : Dog’s Eye View at LaMama ETC, Number Minus One at the Performing Garage and LaMama, and Red House at LaMama. In addition, Jesurun, has produced shorter pieces at St. Mark’s Church and Club 57.
The immediate subjects of these productions include the comically surreal intrigues of a group of international conspirators (Chang); a wagon train filled with real and imagined people heading for California in 1867 (Dog’s Eye View); a contemporary gathering of delegates a la United Nations, together with a World War II bombing mission over Germany (Number minus One); and the occupants of a diner in “Hibbling, Minnesota” who exchange identities with the members of a declining rock group (Red House).
The critical reaction to Jesurun’s work centers on his disorienting use of space, time and fragmented narrative; and his incorporation of films and video with live performance. The spatial and sequential dislocations arise largely from staging - filled with frequent black-outs - that recreates film effects such as camera shots from above or below, camera pans, flashbacks, jump cuts and dissolves. The fast-paced, fractured dialog, often delivered in deadpan style, consists of non-sequiturs, jokes, put-ons, insults, bits of rock lyrics and longer narratives that are sometimes lyrical and sometimes frightening. What Jesurun calls his “verbal shorthand” has been labeled absurd, vaudevillian, free-associative and cryptic - and it has been likened to everything from a “comedy record played at 78 rpm” to “Glengarry Glen Ross on sodium pentothal.”
It is no surprise, then, that Jesurun describes his work as “documentaries about confusion.” Nor is it a surprise that the New York Times’ critic Mel Gussow found Jesurun’s most recent effort “alternately enticing and irritating.”


Chang in a Void Moon.
Chan in a Void Moon premiered at the pyramid Club in June 1982. It was performed in the club’s back room, which features a small elevated stage.. The deliberately overcomplicated plot of the 40-episode Chang would justify using the phrases “impossible to summarize.” Nevertheless, capsulation was attempted before each performance by Jesurun himself, who distributed the following printed summary to the audience ;
Antonio and Svetlana are married. They have a son, Picablo. The         Contessa Isabella  is Svetlana’s mother. The Contessa Isabella          has a maid, Theresa. In 1946, the Contessa was married  to         Chang in Saigon. He tried to kill her five times. They were             divorced a year later. The Contessa is a morphine addict. The         Contessa adopted the Infanta after seeing her singing for money         in the streets of Rio de Janiero. The Infanta’s age is unknown.         she could be seven, she could be forty. The Infanta’s head glows         at night when she sleeps. Svetlana was mysteriously but not         fatally poisoned by an overdose of dill weed.Chang accused         Antonio. Svetlana suspects everyone. They all joined forces and         successfully impersonated Peter, Paul and Mary in a stadium         concert, making hundreds of thousands of dollars.....
Chang marked the introduction of the film-like techniques that became Jesurun’s signature. To simulate a jump-cut, for example, actors began scenes in the middle of sentences, as in “...seem to realize that.” To simulate a camera “pan,” Jesurun had his actors move as if on a conveyor belt. In a now-celebrated effect, repeated in Chang as well as subsequent productions, Jesurun suspended his actors on neutral platforms with the top of their heads facing the audience - thus simulating the cliched cinematic technique of shooting the action from above. Jesurun also frequently achieved the equivalent of “special effects” by manipulating the abbreviated resources available at the Pyramid Club. Among these effects were a plane crash, a baloon ride, a levitating table, a decapitation, and more.
Asked why he became interested in using cinematic devices on stage, Jesurun replies, “since I came out of making films, I was interested in taking that way of working and seeing what effect it had on live performing .... Making films always seemed so fake to me ... and then I started doing live things, and that also seemed contrived. So I thought I’d push the contrivance farther by applying the film ideas to live performance. “Jesurun is also interested in the effect of “doing away with transition and exposition” by using the film conventions to which audiences are accustomed. “Film has become a shorthand,” he says, “which is pretty much what I ended up doing.. I developed a visual and verbal shorthand.”
Other motifs  Chang established include scenes in which the performers lapsed into foreign languages, and rapid “cross-cutting” between scenes in different parts of the world - from Saigon in 1946 to Paris in the 1700s.
Each weekly Chang script was written by Jesurun in one sitting, and there was time for only three rehearsals before the performance. “The serial format was very difficult on myself as well as the actors, “ Jesurun explained in an East Village Eye interview. “It required a lot of mutual trust and respect for the actors and among the actors themselves. They deserve a lot of credit. They were very courageous.


Dog’s Eye View

After a European tour with six episodes from Chang, Jesurun staged a longer piece at LaMama ETC. Dog’s Eye View, with its 19th century American subject matter and its mixture of historical and imagined personalities, marked something of a departure for Jesurun. Much of the staging, though, as well as the verbal patterns, were extensions of themes from Chang. The impersonations and shifting personalities in Dog’s Eye View were also similar to Chang, where the performers claimed to be one character, but often turned out to be another.
Nominally telling the stories of passengers on a wagon train heading West in 1867, Dog’s Eye View reveals pieces of its plot through shattered dialog and action presented in quick scenes punctuated by blackouts. A “fact” is revealed in one scene and then seemingly contradicted in the next. As Jesurun told New York Magazine, “I love giving the audience facts and then changing the facts.”
The set for Dog’s Eye View - five suspended white panels ranging in size from four feet by five feet to ten feet by 15 feet - is clearly the work of a sculptor. Two of the panels hang vertically at the right and left. One rectangle is placed front center. A slanted plane cut to angles of forced perspective stands toward the back half of the stage. The fifth rectangle is suspended at the very rear of the stage, serving as a projection screen for filmed segments. Throughout the performance, the actors are grouped around the rectangles, which are used as tables. Sometimes, the performers are positioned to make the audience feel as if it is perched above the action.
Although most of the play is performed live, some segments are seen on Super-8 sound-film projected on the rectangle at the rear of the stage. In general, Jesurun notes, the filmed portions “pay much more attention to landscape and interior space.” The rapid scene changes are accompanied by two types of music : short excerpts from what Jesurun calls “butchered up rock songs.” and eerie, contemporary electronic violin music (written and recorded by Fred Frith)
Dog’s Eye View’s key themes are confusion of identities and difficulties of perception. Each of the characters attempts to escape his or her personal history. At the same time, they are trying to discover the others’ true identities, to find a hole in the fiction that the other characters create about themselves. It is a battle of interpretations, a struggle of shifting perceptions. The play makes no attempt at historical veracity; the language is contemporary, and figures from the past meet, although historicaly, they never actually met. In addition, the true sequence of historical events is subverted to correspond to the playwright’s playful imagination.
A prominent member of the wagon train is Abraham Lincoln’s wife. Though the play is set in 1867 - after Lincoln’s assassination - it is not clear in the piece wether or not Lincoln is dead. At times the play seems to suggest that John Wilkes Booth’s plot has failed and that Mrs Lincoln must now foil a new group of woul-be assassins. To accomplish this, Mrs Lincoln has hired a couple - a man named Covarrubias and his wife, Mrs Blake - to impersonate her and her husband. Mrs Lincoln’s plan calls  for the impostors to travel to San Francisco, where conspirators are waiting to assassinate the President. The situation is complicated by Mrs Lincoln’s periodic insistence that she is not really Mrs Lincoln, but is actually named Mrs Colfax. Clearly, there is more than one level of confused identities in Dog’s Eye View.
The other prominent historical figure on the wagon train in Empress Carlotta of Mexico. In 1863, Napoleon III sent the real Carlotta and her husband Maximilian to govern Mexico. Maximilian was overthrown and assassinated in 1867 - an event depicted on film in Dog’s Eye View. The real Carlotta then fled Mexico for Belgium, where she subsequently went mad. Jesurun, however, distorts the facts and has Carlotta on his American wagon train, attempting to escape her history. Carlotta  is accompanied by the mysterious Lafarge, a man who first appears as a member of her entourage and is later revealed as a spy attempting to return Carlotta to Mexico.
Among the wagon train’s other members are Martin, a photographer who, it turns out, takes only blank photographs : William, an angry youth who may be the photographer’s son; Mary, an escaped slave; and Vera, a young white girl who sometimes pretends to take on the identity of the escaped slave.
In the play’s final scene, which takes place partly on film, the angry youth commits a murder. The youth, who has been accused of taking part in the assassination of Maximilian, now apparently murders the Lincoln impersonator in San Francisco. At this point, Dog’s Eye View increasingly takes place on film, rather than live on stage.
This summary should not be taken to imply traditional plotting. “It is a mistake to view my pieces in theatrical time, “Jesurun said in an East Vilage Eye interview. “It’s closer to cinematic time. I don’t necessarily want to determine space and time but rather focus attention on what is happening rather than when and where. I want the audience to think,but not try to figure out the next part of the plot. There is no map to follow in viewing my work.”
The dialog in Dog’s Eye View continues the style of contemporary wordplay found in Chang - a style that continually calls attention to itself. The effect, as more than one critic has pointed out, is that the language seems to have “a life of its own.” independent from the play’s action. That is, the action takes place in the 19th century, but the dialog  is clearly the product of a modern imagination. As Jesurun puts it, “the script, in some sense, is disembodied from the actors saying it because, in a way, it’s connected only to itself
An excerpt from Dog’s Eye View best illustrates Jesurun’s point. Here, the violence and danger of frontier life - a recurring theme in the play - is depicted in conversations that are both cruel and comic. The effect exemplifies Jesurun’s unsettling touch :

MARY : Salt please.
COVARRUBIAS : Headache ?
WILLIAM : No, water in my ears.
LAFARGE : What is that cat eating ?
CARLOTTA : A bird.
VERA : Oh.
COVARRUBIAS : Does it  have to rip it apart so violently ?
MRS BLAKE : It looks like it’s still alive.
WILLIAM : Stop that.
COVARRUBIAS : Stop this minute.
CARLOTTA : Look at it shredding it with relish.
MARY : Like a wild animal.
WILLIAM : Cats are wild.
COVARRUBIAS : Like a beast, its horrifying bloodlust.
LAFARGE : Clawing and clawing and shredding.
MRS. COLFAX : Ripping and gorging and disgorging.
WILLIAM : Dismumbling and shredding.
MRS. BLAKE : Look at that, see the wild look in its eyes.
COVARRUBIAS : Seething.
MRS. COLFAX : Burning with wild sensation.
VERA : Its’ enjoying itself as if it can’t help itself.
COVARRUBIAS : It’s on fire.
CARLOTTA : Ruthless.
MRS. BLAKE : Devouring.
MARY : Feathers and all.
COVARRUBIAS : Insatiable.
LAFARGE : It hardly stops to breathe
MRS. BLAKE : Out of control, livid, relentless.
COVARRUBIAS : Incontrovertible.
MARY : Intravenous.
VERA : Evil.
LAFARGE : Diablo.
COVARRUBIAS : Polyrhythmic.
MRS. BLAKE : Look at the rhythm of its gashing.
COVARRUBIAS : Polyrhythmic.
MARY : A wolf.
LAFARGE : Grizzly.
VERA : Mongoose.
MRS. BLAKE : Boa constrictor.
CARLOTTA : Oh my god.
MARY : Look away.
VERA : Look away.
COVARRUBIAS : look away dixieland.

Jesurun, employing a characteristic device, later ends this scene with the same words that he used to begin it : “Pass the salt.”
this rapid-fire dialog is frequently delivered in a manner that critics tend to call “dead-pan.” It is a misleading characterization, however,. In general, Jesurun’s actors display little traditional acting technique because of his dislike for performances that try to “sway” the audience with an “overt” emotional point of view. “A lot of expository acting I see is distracting to what the actor is saying and why it’s being said,” Jesurun says. “So rather than throwing the audience off with acting technique, I have the actors really concentrate on what they’re saying ... it makes people listen more : The audience pays more attention to what’s being said.” Rather than “deadpan.” Jesurun prefers to describe the acting in his productions  as “naturalistic.” Jesurun also makes use of what he calls “emotionally heated acting,” but he employs it sparingly and surrounds it with performances that are stripped of affect. Jesurun treats highly charged acting as a “controlled substance,” he says - something he does not wish to squander.

NUMBER MINUS ONE

Part 1 of Jesurun’s next production, Number Minus One, was first staged at the Performing Garage in May 1984. It also appeared at LaMama two weeks later. In July 1984, Number Minus One, Parts 1 and 2 were staged together at the Performing Garage.
Number Minus One Part 1 is set at the meeting of a U.N.-like committee whose apparent purpose is to discuss economic and trade cooperation. The “characters” - Jesurun insists quotation marks be used when describing his characters - are Brian, the American chairman of the committee; Sandy, a young woman who is his secretary/aide; Liu T’ang, delegate from China; Madame Lumiere, delegate from France; Krylenko, delegate from Russia; and Mr. D, delagate from the Jesurun-invented country called “Kinaiya.” The role of the Chines delegate is played by an actress with a French accent, and the French delegate is played by an Asian actress.  The rest of the casting, however, runs along more conventional lines.
The set for Part 1 centers on a large white trapezoid painted in the middle of the floor. A smaller rectangular plane, located at the right toward the rear is used as a desk by the chairman and his assistant. The Soviet delegate is sunk waist deep at the left; ; a white rectangular plane on the floor in front of him serves as a desk upon which he takes notes during the performance. The remaining delegates are seated on folding chairs at the corners of the trapezoid. Between scenes, the actors frequently change positions. Throughout the play, the central trapezoid serves as a screen on which a continually projected film loop - depicting a swiming pool - is shown. During the film, the camera is alternately fixed and in motion, constantly changing its point of view, although it always returns to the image of a still pool.
The language in Part 1 is an unending onslaught of cryptic, invented bureaucratic/political doublespeak, replete with such phrases as “reindicating,” “north-negative,” “south-positive,” “contempt of code,” and “clear unambiguous obstruction and direspect for committee code action.”
Amid this verbiage a certain plot line, as well as a number of anecdoctes, emerge. The chairman and his secretary/assistant, for example, play out a cliched love scene.. Later on, two other actors repeat the scene verbatim. The secretary/assistant recounts a long story about an official and his homosexual lover who are both arrested for drug dealing and, instead of going to jail, take jobs defusing nuclear weapons for the government - only to contract cancer from their contact with radioactive material. among the other topics covered are a gold “Napoleonic chair,” covered with bees, that is given as a gift to the committee by the French government. A notable exegesis of the Beatles’ song “Let It Be” is included.
Eventually the committee’s chairman, Brian, rebels against the opaque bickering, and resigns. Soon thereafter, we learn that Brian has either committed suicide or been murdered in a “swimming pool amphetamine accident/incident” - an event that bears a striking resemblance to the death of Brian Jones, a member of the Rolling stones who died in a swimming pool under mysterious, drug-related circumstances.
Sandy, the chairman’s assistant/secretary, is now called upon to assume the chairman’s duties.  Attempting to evade this appointment,, she protests the committee’s nonsensical goings-on by responding to all questions with the phrase “lalala,” this one phrase, repeated with great speed, is punctuated by Sandy’s strident insults to the committee. The scene quickly segues into the committee’s interrogation of Sandy concerning her involvement in the “accident/incident” that lead to the chairman’s death. Two excerpts from the sequence give a good idea of Part 1’s linguistic feel :
SANDY : There is lalala.
LIU : No lalala.
SANDY : Lalala.
LIU : Are you insulting me ?
SANDY : No.
LIU : Are you offending me ?
SANDY : Don’t think so, Yes, I’m from Chicago.
LUMIERE : How lovely. Not really.
MR. D : What are the police looking for ?
LIU : There was a threat.
LUMIERE : Drug-related reprisal.
LIU : Listening to music under headphones.
MR. D : Delegate number minus one.
SANDY : Yes.
MR. D : What are you doing ?
SANDY : Listening to the translations.
MR. D : What has been said ?
SANDY : Resolution number fifty-six A.
MR. D : Wrong. What is in your headphones ?
SANDY : Music. They had to put her off in Amarillo, off the plane. She developped a headache and it got so bad that it wouldn’t go away. They examined her and she had a malformation in her arteries in her brain and she had a stroke and half of her is paralyzed. I’m not a delegate, I’m a secretary.
LIU : And we are very upset.
KRYLENKO : Things are popping.
SANDY : Something just popped in her brain. the delegate was gone on vacation I was just filling in.
KRYLENKO : Well, you have performed miserably and your country will reward you for it.
*******************

LUMIERE : But the autopsy says there was 1.72 milligrams of amphetamine substance in his body.
SANDY : So what, he drowned. I had gone upstairs to sleep and when I came down Jack and the nurse were just standing by the pool and he was floating in it and they weren’t doing anything. I asked them to help me but but they wouldn’t, they wouldn’t help me. He was way down by the bottom so he just drowned.
KRYLENKO : He did not drown.
SANDY : The Mafia held him under the water. He knew too much about the band’s finances or
MR. D : Or another one of the band members was hiding in the bushes and pushed him in.
LUMIERE : Or he just carefully did it to himself. That was it.
KRYLENKO : He just drowned himself.
SANDY : No one would help me take him out though they wouldn’t help me. He was just trying  to have fun, he was so happy that night, so many great things were happening with the band resolution.
LIU : I doubt it.
SANDY : They wouldn’t help me  I had to drag him out myself.
MR. D : I doubt it.
SANDY : They wouldn’t help me I had to drag him out myself.
MR. D : I doubt it.
SANDY : They wouldn’t help me.

Part 1 concludes when Sandy, delivering the committee’s final presentation, precisely lip-syncs a recording of a 1960s pop-song, “Walking in the Rain” by the Ronettes. Three of the delegates serve as her back-up singers, also lip-syncing through the song.
While Part 1 is, on the surface, filled with bureaucratic niceties, Part 2 of Number Minus One - what Jesurun calls the “flip side” - is marked by all-out profanity and little regard for protocol of any kind.
Part 2 takes place in the interior of a B-17 bomber on a mission over Germany during World War II.The set remains basically the same, although there are a few changes. A large “X” nowcovers the trapezoid painted at the center of the set - as if a painter has crossed out an image that was no longer of interest. In addition, the folding chairs from Part 1 have been replaced by padded swivel chairs.
The cast from Part 1 - still in the same costumes - portray a pilot, a co-pilot, and a variety of gunners. One of the gunners is positioned atop a 20-foot-high ladder at the rear of the stage. Although the dialog abounds in racist, obscene references to “Krauts,” the Kaiser, bombing opera houses, and killing German “country bumpkins,” the language sometimes reverts to the bureaucratic jargon of part 1. Amid these outbursts, the crew earnestly shoots and bombs German soldiers and citizens. Periodically, the actord lip-sync their dialog to recordings of their own voices saying their lines. To create sound effects for these combat scenes, Jesurun uses a combination of gritty rock-and-roll riffs mixed with the sounds of explosions and machine-gun fire.
Part 2 veers back and forth - without transition - from the bombing mission to a card party at which the plane’s crew attempts to relax. The conclusion occurs when the plane is finally shot down and crashes amid a fury of twisted rock music. During the plane’s descent, the actors speak their lines in unison with a recording of their voices speaking the same lines. In this final sequence, key words from Sandy’s recollection of the drowning incident in Part 1 recur in the dialog. As we hear the play’s final lines - “Sandy, cool him off, cool him off. Get out of the pool, the committee has arrived” - Sandy, who enters the pool in Part 1, now emerges from the pool in a wet bikini.
Number Minus One Parts 1 and 2 is Jesurun’s way of juxtaposing three apparently disconnected elements : the bureaucratic banalities of international diplomacy, the suspicious death of Rolling Stones member Brian Jones, and the chaotic violence of World War II. Discussing his intentions for the play Jesurun speaks of his desire to “push” these three events “all together,” to create a “confusion of mixing elements,” and then “try to make some strange order out of them.”


RED HOUSE

Jesurun’s most recent piece, Red House, was performed at LaMama in October 1984. Set in a roadside diner called “Red House,” the play takes its name from the Jimi Hendrix song of the same name.. Although the song is never heard in the play, the text abounds in allusions to rock music from Chuck Berry to the present. The diner, for example, is located in “Hibbling, Minnesota,” a deformation of Hibbing, Minnesota, Bob Dylan’s hometown. In addition, a three-piece rock-group plays live on stage as part of the play. “To me,” Jesurun says, “it was a natural progression from constantly referring to music to finally bringing music on the stage.”
In Red House Jesurun also continues to explore the effect media has on his characters. “All the characters in the play are plugged into the radio and TV, constantly receiving electricity,” Jesurun said in a Village Voice interview. “While consuming this stuff, even repeating things out of songs, they’re dissastified. They’re constantly switching the radio station, looking for a better song, or complaining the music is too loud. Their concerns are what’s coming out of the speakers rather than what’s going on around them.” As Voice writer William Harris puts it, Red House is a “hilarious, bleak portrait of societal confusion on the rampage.”
Another recurring concern in the piece is the use of video together with live performance. As in Chang, Jesurun again presents mostly close-ups on his video “talking heads” - monitors turned on their sides to better accomodate the shape of the human head. “I’m interested in mixing live and recorded elements,” Jesurun says, “and seeing their effect on the audience.” The result, he finds, is that “the audience sometimes reacts more to a film or video image than a live actor.”
The situation is made more complex because of the “mix of the vulnerability of live performance and the seeming invulnerability of mechanized presentations” such as film or video.”When an actor is talking to a video head,” Jesurun explains, “the actor on stage has to be as programmed as the TV set because the actor has to fill in all the lines.” This creates a certain tension, he says, because “the TV set is an inevitable voice that can’t be stopped and talking to it is a real live person who can forget a line.” In addition, Jesurun wants his plays to “have an inevitability like films.” In films, he says, “you always know that the film is going to complete itself unless the projector breaks.” By contrast, in a play “something could always go wrong - like an actor forgetting his lines - and the play would end right there.” By using film and video in his plays, Jesurun is able to introduce an element into the performance “that will inevitably complete itself.”
The set of Red House - complete with a red painted floor - consists od three large cubes, each approximately 10 feet high, six feet wide, and eight feet long. Two of the cubes rest on each side of the stage and the third cube stand behind them, at the rear of the stage. These surround the performance area where the action takes place. One member of the live band stand atop each of the cubes - the drummer in the center and the guitarists at either side. Throughout the play the band members are dimly lit.
Between the play’s frequent blackouts, the band plays fragments of hard-driving rock-and-roll. “In a sense,” Jesurun says “the play is a battle between the band and the actors.” In the play’s final scene, the battle comes to a conclusion of sorts when one of the actors, backed-up by the live band, sings a Jimi Hendrix song, “Voodoo Chile.”
The play’s five “characters” are Shevaughn, the diner’s cook; Billie, a waitress; Devon, a woman in a wheelchair who always seems to be at the diner; Mitch, a member of the touring rock group; and Mrs. Kelly, who won the rock group in a card game and now controls their activity. The plot, buried beneath a fractured surface, is fairly conventional. Two members of the rock band arrive at the diner and eventually exchange identities with the people running the diner. The diner’s staff end up touring in the band’s place while the two characters from the band run the diner.
Throughout the play, key phrases such as “beat box” - an electronic percussion machine - and  “voodoo chile” - taken from the Jimi Hendrix song - are constantly repeated. The unnamed band’s impoverished musicianship is also contrasted with the stronger heritage of rock greats such as Jimi Hendrix. As one character explains, “It’s no big deal” to run a band. “You just take these beat boxes and just plug them in and turn them all on at the same time and let them run for an hour or so and then unplug them and collect the money.”
At the play’s beginning, the five cast members are present on stage in representations of two locations - the diner and in the band’s van. Mitch and Mrs. Kelly - both from the rock group - are seated at opposite ends of the stage, facing the audience and conversing as they drive in their van :

MITCH : Where next ?
MRS. KELLY : Who cares just keep driving.
MITCH : We have to know where we’re going.
MRS. KELLY : Goin’ ? We’re here.
MITCH : We’re not here, we’re not anywhere.

At the diner, meanwhile, the discussion centers on rock music, until Shevaughn, the cook, launches into a diatribe about a plot to punish Germany for their actions during World War II by placing American nuclear missiles in the country. This is the first of a series of monologs about Nazi Germany. At another point, the waitress announces that she’s about to read from “Huck Finn,” only to read a sequence from Albert Speers’s Spandau diaries.
When the band members and the diner’s staff are first brought together, the scene mixes menace and comic wordplay. Two passages from the sequence capture much of Red house’s tone.

SHEVAUGHN : I’m not the cook I’m the waitress.
MRS. KELLY : I still don’t want it.
BILLIE : Please take my advice and shut up and eat that.
MRS. KELLY : Yes thank you.
SHEVAUGHN : Did the dumb one in your group die ?
MRS. KELLY : The smart one died.
BILLIE : Too bad.
SHEVAUGN ; Just eat that, we’ve got another table coming soon.
BILLIE : Don’t let her bother you. She’s from another faction and she doesn’t like the kind of people but it’s alright because she’s from another place, understand ? So that’s her excuse.
MITCH : Yeah, well she’s a pain.
BILLIE : She’s  from Hibbling, Minnesota.
SHEVAUGHN : I thought you died in a motorpsycho incident.
MRS. KELLY : No I survived.
SHEVAUGHN : I tought you were dead, I remember when you played at the high school.
BILLIE : Really ? I thought you were dead.
MRS. KELLY : No I survived to build a huge house that fell off a cliff into the sea one day, earthquake.
MITCH : Earthquake.
MRS. KELLY : On jittery land.
BILLIE : Kind of like Hibbling.
MRS. KELLY :  Oh no, the land in Hibbling never jittered, it just baked and froze and baked and froze and baked and froze.
SHEVAUGHN : I know what you mean.
MITCH : No you don’t.
SHEVAUGHN : Yes I do too. I lived there too.
BILLIE : Where’s that drummer what was his name ?
MITCH : Oh we threw him out.
DEVON : That drummer kicked ass and you know it.
MITCH : Well we kicked his ass and now he knows it.
DEVON : And that’s probably why you kicked his ass because he kicked ass.
BILLIE : Oh big deal.
MITCH : More coffee here.
SHEVAUGHN : More coffee.
BILLIE : Ask the waitress.
MRS. KELLY : I thought you were the waitress.
BILLIE : I’m not the cook I’m the waitress.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

MRS. KELLY : Play another record.
DEVON : No jukebox.
BILLIE : No jukebox, they took it out.
MITCH : What for ?
BILLIE : On the skids.
SHEVAUGHN : Your record wasn’t in it anyway.
DEVON : Beat box.
SHEVAUGHN : Beat box brain.
MITCH : Hey shut it !
SHEVAUGHN : Shut it for me !
DEVON : Beat box mentality !
MRS. KELLY : What’s your name ?
SHEVAUGHN : Shevaughn.
MRS. KELLY : What kind of a name is that ?
SHEVAUGHN : I.R.A. inspired.
MITCH : Equal Rights Amendment name.
SHEVAUGHN : Irish Republican Army name.
MITCH : Why don’t you send your jukebox to them ?
MRS KELLY : That’ll chase the English out.
SHEVAUGHN : Beat box brain.
MRS. KELLY :Beat it
BILLIE : Just beat it.

After Mitch and Mrs. Kelly take the others on a”kidnap” - a wild ride in the band’s van - the change of identities occurs : The band now runs the diner and the diner’s occupants go on tour. This seemingly straighforward plot, it should be said, must be extrapolated from a series of rapidly paces scenes filled with Jesurun’s typical free-flowing dialog. Included along the way are a long monolog about a woman coming to terms with her enemy neighbor on Christmas day, the story of a philanthropist who literally has a heart made of gold, and whole scenes that consist of nothing but the rock group’s itinerary throughout Europe and the United States. Midway through the piece, it is implied that the entire cast is in an automobile accident., and the scene seemingly shifts to a hospital where Devon, the woman in the wheelchair, undergoes an operation.
Jesurun leaves unanswered - or ambiguously answered - the question of who has survived the crucial car crash. At first it seems that Devon is the only one who has been hurt. Later, though, Mrs Kelly appears on videotape in the role of a nurse and suggests the opposite : that all the others have been killed and only Devon has survived. This idea is further suggested in a series of scenes in which Devon, alone on the stage, speaks to the other members of the cast, all of whom appear on videotape. Devon, though, never appears on video. At this point, it seems possible that the entire play consists of Devon’s perception of herself as the only survivor of thecrash - that Red House might be Devon’s hallucinations following the accident.
Asked about these ambiguities, Jesurun says that the play is about “dual perceptions” - the question of “who is imagining who.” In Red House, he continues, “I’m setting up this situation with all of this information being thrown at the audience very quickly. The person watching it has to either put it all back together again or take it in the order that it’s coming to them and decipher it in their own particular way.”
Expressing a similar thought in different words, Jesurun says his work “is not about understanding a story, it’s about seeing how stories are understood.”

Ron Fried is a freelance writer whose report on Jesurun’s Chang in a void moon appeared in T98.
 

FELIX,volume 1, issue 3 postliterate,1993
breaking the relentless spool of film unrolling
 by JOHN JESURUN


The innocent eye is essentially the pinhole through which one perceives. What the eye focuses on has as much to do with physical as well as mental processes occurring on both sides of it. Both sides are in a constant and sometimes hostile state of educative communication. They are positioned in a line of communication that extends itself within a chain of command struggling to find meaning in itself. The human struggle to get from the inside to the outside and bring the outside to the inside is full of detours, pitfalls and discoveries in interpretation. There is a constant search for the correct translation.
Our original mediators, language, sound, vision, smell, touch, have been compounded by the addition of other mediators in the form of cameras, imitations, reproductions, recordings. In an almost organic way these mediators reproduce themselves at an astonishing speed. As we have discovered new mediators in an effort to understand ourselves, it has made things clearer and more confusing at the same time. The sophisticated and sometimes brutal techniques in which we present and filter information in our ordinary, contemporary reality is certainly an influence on my work.
One of the main concerns in my work is the use of spoken language and its structure. The many levels and layers through which a thought struggles to become words and language constantly reinvigorate communication. Also important to me is the relationship of content to sound and rhythm and how these reflect the impulses of thought and emotion.
In a sense the use of media is one step further away from the brain than the spoken word. But in other ways it seems one step closer because we are capable of making it dissect the very language that set it into motion. It sees and remembers more than our physiology allows our sanity. We can even attempt to catch it and return to its natural internal origins. It is a reflection of the sophisticated techniques our minds use to decipher, edit, reconstruct, contrive and adapt our personal and collective realities. These techniques are primal, (automatic?). We are constantly looking for their origins.
Language and media seem natural partners and enemies. My interest is in their co-existence, their frictions and the humans caught in between. The background of my relationship with media began long before I incorporated it into my theater work. I spent three years as a "television content analyst" at CBS which consisted of watching four hours of prime time network television a day. Gleaning from it information on violence and social attitudes for larger studies on the effects of mass communication conducted by the Social Research department of CBS.
From there I went to the other side of the tube as the assistant to the producer of the Dick Cavett show then broadcast by PBS. The Cavett Show consisted of taped half hour interviews, generally one on one with the host. The work at CBS exposed me to perhaps the most crass elements of media use. The Cavett show deeply involved me with the other side of the spectrum. It was a language based program, which, although containing its fair share of manipulations, was quite pure in its direct, unedited style, motives, and the broadcast of personalities and information.
My involvement in this work influenced my work greatly in terms of my attitude toward media and the ways I was to use it later in my theater/media productions. At CBS I realized that much of broadcast television is not only a creation of the network producers but a reflection of and a collaboration with the society it "served." I came away with the thought that although these shows service the audience, the media itself, in its largest and most anonymous form, was itself serviced by the audience. It was watching us.
The minute we turn on our set we are connected to, influenced and disciplined by a large system. The Cavett show introduced me to a kind of television that is basic in its vision and intent, almost pure video. Of course it's content could be altered and structured but the show itself was about content. Content based on language and faces with a very limited amount of camera angles and techniques. Within that limitation I saw an endless stream of content available to the audience.
From this I became aware of the power of the words themselves over image. The words and conversations were infinite in their variety. It was a construction made of electricity, cameras, light and faces. The conversations could be as complicated as the prime time shows were in their constantly moving, shifting, visual and aural techniques. Both of these uses of media collided in my work.
As a filmmaker I began to wish for a way of breaking the relentless inevitability of a spool of film/video unrolling. I began my first pieces as attempts to make films without filming them. To take everything one could put through the lens of a camera and present it live. The audience would be the camera and film. An innocent eye freed from the eyepiece of the camera. It was an architecture of all the elements needed for a film. Script, actors, film techniques (jump cuts, fragmentation of time, bird's eye views, etc.) became the structure of the pieces.
I moved into creating fully integrated theater pieces containing simultaneously synchronized interacting pieces of film and live performance. What held these elements together was the language. Verbal and visual interaction between screen and performers became as natural in my pieces as interaction between live performers. The video/film could not be separated from the live content. It became a very complicated sandwich. Live and prerecorded work could constantly connect each other. Over all there was an underlying and constant tension between them. An uneasy truce that always seemed on the verge of breaking down.
Every performance skirted the edge of chaos because the timing and speed of the language shared by live and recorded actors was so tightly knit. There was no way in or out after the piece began. It became a friction between naturally expanding live performing actors and strictly edited pieces of video/film. The language was so freely interspersed between the live and the recorded that the audience had to decide what and when to look.
In general, theater audiences found this an unwelcome intrusion. Any sense of reality created in the theater was constantly called into question. (A feeling I always have when I watch television.) The content of the pieces at times became directly related to the actual struggle of the actors as they worked to maintain a common ground with their own mediated images. This also brought the use of actors into question. Are they mediated images? How much are they programmed in any theater piece? Are they prisoners of the order of the words they have memorized? How much freedom to do they have within these constraints? In a film do the rules allow them to be edited visually/verbally? and if this is allowed in film is it also allowed in theater? .The terror of living in a sandwich for an hour and a half surrounded by the seemingly passive/aggressive presence of the video/film talking image was transferred to the audience.
A recorded image has been scrutinized and recorded by a camera as well as by a single human eye and then again by the audiences’ eyes. The recorded human image also has the quality of scrutinizing the audience itself. It takes in the scene through seemingly dead eyes and through a face that appears to speak and think. These human images in particular open up vast territories for actors in the minute movements of facial and body movements and vocal fluctuations. These are generally not perceived on stage but on screen. It becomes a combination of stage and film acting. The acting becomes more intimate. One sees an actor inhabiting a larger theatrical space and at the same time speaking within a very small area. Face to face as it were with the audience.
I also began using live cameras in several different positions to reveal and conceal the live action from all participants, audience included. The presence of live recording cameras transmitting simultaneously allow for more spontaneous and intimate activities rather than inhibiting them. Certainly physical space may be constricted but within that small space opens up a newer world of expression.
As a microscope peers into small areas of reality only to find larger and larger universes within smaller and smaller fragments. Actors begin to do things they have never done before particularly with facial movements. The concentration becomes very precise. When restrictions seem their harshest I find that actors always find a way of creating variations if ever so minute. For the actors, I realize that within what appears to be the pressure is a tremendous amount of creativity, calm and freedom. These are extremely perceptive creations to break an imposed pattern This breaking of the pattern always has some effect on the rest of the structure and so it shifts and changes and in doing so new paths are discovered. Camera angles, live editing, focuses shift to accommodate imagination
For me, the urge to use media comes from an area found deep in a pre-language state. I also find that my tendency towards words comes from this same area. In all, it is a process which begins somewhere before writing, continues through writing and ends as something which is neither film, video, literature or theater because it has elements of all these languages.
Do these languages begin separately? Or do they begin as one and then separate to continue their life outside the brain? For me, the main concern is to get them back together. I find that despite obvious frictions, (what works on the inside doesn't always work on the outside) an almost musical relationship between voice,words and media allows these elements to be attracted, reunited, reorganized in their performance.
JOHN JESURUN