Art Lies, Volume 2, May-June 1994

BY ARGELA HIC KEY
Jim Pirtle and David Wiley's April 1
performance at the Zocalo Theater
was full of the lavish sensuality one
might expect from a Pirtle
performance. But in other respects it i
was a welcome change. Pirtle's cornerstone
issues of purgation and narcissism were there,
but only as residue, a necessary recap, a will to 4 * .
prove that he is not contradicting his earlier
statements. Using Brechtian tricks, Pirtle and
Wiley created a shady border between performer
and audience, to which Pirtle was relegated for
most of the performance, engrossed in the large
scale chess game that lay before him.
Death of Alfonso went much deeper than the single persona of either "Jim Pirtle" or "Stu
Mulligan," and despite its excruciating lethargy it was witheringly beautiful. With mylar crackling
breathlessly behind the audience, the piece's symbolic meaning mournfully oscillated, like a keening woman rocking back
and forth. One could never be certain about the piece's inner integrity. Were the ponderous performers playing an
actual chess game? What was Alfonso (Michael Battey) writing in the book? Was there an archetypal significance to the
ritualistic designs Pirtle made on the floor with Morton salt? (And there it is, Pirtle's idea of a good joke: hiding an
elemental image, salt, behind brand name nostalgia).
While this time no bodily fluids puddled odiously on the cement, gallons and gallons of wine did pour forth from backstage,
the stain crawling slowly underfoot. On film, wine stains were miraculously removed from a white cloth, time after time in a
backwards loop. At some point the film jumped to a baby crying silently. This jump backwards-from stained to snow white
to infancy-reminded me again how Pirtle can be so infuriatingly simple, trite as a lounge song even, with his imagery (wine
and roses), yet through sheer reverence and reinvention he tricks us into overlooking his simplicity.
Not all was simple in Death of Alfonso. While a particularly bloodless king (Malcom MacDonald) sat in a cage, a blindfolded
man sharpened a knife and shaved Alfonso (Ellis Moss). A voice-over's simple questions: what are you eating? are you going to sleep?
reverberated bewitchingly. Everything, including Alfonso with his white mask and the empty four-poster bed frame, took on a
shimmering facelessness, a blankness as blank as Klein Blue. We were lured into this blue field of death and broken down, taken apart
as the questions degenerated into single repeated words, as the noises (produced by Bill Kelley) failed to match up to their causes on
stage, as the chess players proceeded, their logic invisible to the audience. In this way the performance led us, pawns, into stillness,-
a state that can be an affront to anyone with a stake in this world, to anyone watching, even Jim. *

artl i e s REPORTS

Chandler, Wade & Schwab, Eric Jonah. Art Lies, Volume 2, May-June 1994. Houston, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth228035/. Accessed July 11, 2014.