Monday, April 30, 2012

Stëvë: Most Assuredly Sucking, But Not Up, Never Up

The hot ticket in Farmingtion, Missouri this past Sunday night was for Stëvë, a debut performance of a much anticipated show that at long last had its world premiere at The Vault. Funny and invigorating, Stëvë, performed by Doe Run stand-up comic Steve Hull, was an unforgettable moment-by-moment meditation on popular notions of failure and, obversely, suckcess. The multi-media experience was a hair-raising aesthetic event, the kind I hope to see much more of in Southeastern, Missouri: kamikaze artists intelligently depicting the unvarnished truth about the futures prescribed for them by prosperous, fat men like George Lucas, who in Stëvë parlance “has ruined the lives of most children in America” with the 3D version of Star Wars, Episode One. “It sucks!”

Photo by Corey Warner

In titling his show, as well as for purposes of his professional and public persona, 21-year-old Steve Hull chooses to dot his e's; more precisely he deploys the umlaut, a diacritical mark used on top of vowels to announce an unusual pronunciation, a partial assimilation of a sound to a succeeding sound. And Steve uses two umlauts: this emphatic doubling and repetition are themselves further markers of his remarkable and fearless pronouncements. In designing his own name Stëvë has concocted a particularly apt title, especially for a show where doubling and repetition are structured in for effect, reinforcing and strengthening the idea that his is a show in large part about the creative/destructive process of forming one's identity in a society insistent upon one's succeeding above all, in the total absence of morality. “You want a moral to take with you,” he tells us, “drink motor oil!”

Photo by Corey Warner
Stëvë  foregrounds failure in his onstage speech and acts: the unlikely excuses, the unusual apologies, the strategic self-deprecation: “I can't make balloon animals; I'm sorry if you thought I could;” or  “If I fall on the floor and start crying, just take a magic marker and start drawing on my face;” or “I feel I'm doing a good job because no one has told me that this sucks! And the deeds follow the words. It's true, he cannot fabricate the cheesy animal balloon he's offered us; calling the elongated balloon a snake doesn't conjure one. But loosening his tie to do so, he can and does swallow the 2-foot long balloon, sucking it down his gullet as if to say: You want me to be a clown in the Empire of America? I'll EAT the balloon before I make myself a clown for you!

Photo by Denny Henke
Failure doesn't look like failure at all in Stëvë; or rather, flop sweat becomes a kind of perfume connoting, well...dignity, pride, decency, for lack of better words. It's a beautiful, brave and heroic show: he doesn't flinch in embodying just how perniciously and fluidly America is crushing its children, forcing them to think horribly corrosive unspoken thoughts like the one Stëvë enacts before us: If petroleum products are to be valued above all human, plant and animal life, maybe I should drink some motor oil.

Painter and sculptor John DeBold verifying the sealed bottle of motor oil. Photo by Corey Warner
 [We've had several suicides of young men in the area recently; one some weeks ago was a high school friend of Steve's. I do think the show, to its great credit, is in part a response to those those very real and permanent losses in the ranks.]

Photo by Tim Smith

Part burlesque, Stëvë strips for us. First he tosses aside his cowboy hat and double-breasted Civil War cavalry shirt to reveal a standard-issue white short-sleeved business shirt tied by an orange tie; then he wrestles those off only to reveal an identical shirt, this time with black tie. “Black tie's better than orange,” he tells us, informing us that there are layers to his presentation: scratch beneath the surface, and then scratch again: we'll be rewarded for our efforts by an even more pleasing visual effect.  

Animals, especially disturbing cat videos, are central to the storytelling: Satanic cats for adoption, erotic squirrels trapped in his car. “Just drive until it falls out,” he advises. He lets out random screams, squealing howls that could be animal cries, coyotes on steroids, wildly blurring the line between human and nonhuman. Ever attuned to the diminution of the range of real “choices” available to most people, he plays a tiny harmonica, “which is better than a tiny violin,” he judges. Extending the musical moment, Stëvë raps for us about Amish life, “we're going to party like it's 1699.” He takes pictures of the audience, he makes a phone call from stage to a friend in the first row: “I'm sorry; I'm not really funny.” He frequently promotes his merchandise, which is all false merch—bacon air fresheners, for example—forged autographs, and the like. Sometimes he goes silent, lets the air between stage and audience die down to a standstill, and then shouts at us to “make some noise!” And some of us do.
Photo by Corey Warner
Stëvë's final and stirring words at the historic show held at The Vault on April 29, 2012 were: “You''ll have to pay me to leave.”

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