Chris Goode & Company
From 21 February 2012 to 10 March 2012
Review by Diana Damian
God/Head is as personal as it is political; it carefully treads a problematic territory in an attempt to craft a theatrical discourse through the only available tool—personal experience. Chris Goode speaks to us about tensions—between god and God; between social, personal and psychological constructs.
It's a partly-autobiographical and distinctly elegiac piece that explores the impossible in embodied experience- the uncertainty of belief. Goode examines the territory between religion and science, real and simulated experience in an intimate and highly ambitious show.
As he was walking down the street with shopping in his hands, Goode felt it—below his neck, and in his chest, on the right of his heart. "Nothing was more real or more vivid than God, in whom I don't believe." Through this drawn narrative axis, Goode engages in a deconstruction of his encounter through memories, conversations and intersections, joined by a different guest each night.
God/Head feels like a tricky show for both performer and audience; it deals with very big topics in a surprisingly depersonalized way—despite Goode's natural candidness and honesty, it's a show dominated by a didacticism which isn't intended but which cements any real vulnerability in the encounter with the audience. Goode fuses formal devices—repetition, appropriation, replication and embodiment—with topical content. Those devices clearly stem from the script itself—Goode learns how to be a convincing, dominating performer from self-help guru Iyanla Vanzant; he tries to speak to us as a person, a host, a preacher, a lecturer—and in the cunning mechanic of this formal juggling, the content fades away.
The pacing doesn't help either—the set-up of the performance is such that any structural transformation is overtly underlined; the genuine honesty promised in the beginning is overwhelmed by the sheer weight of such personal content almost taken out of context, raising interesting questions on the responsibilities within autobiographical performance, and the possibilities of theatrical documentaries—a word which Goode uses to describe this show.
In some ways, God/Head is a lyrical, inquisitive script, but one that doesn't manage to gain life onstage—moments of real inquiry shift into trivial confessions because they're not framed by a solid context. When Goode introduces a dialogue with one of his fictional characters—a teenage boy who attempts to commit suicide—he also closes a door for the audience to imagine and empathize; for Goode, feeling is currency—and that becomes action in itself, so often the content of the show is actually its structuring feature.
In the disclaimer which Goode presents at the beginning of the show, he underlines that in attempting to discover his own relationship to God, he's putting forward real memories and events and constructing a show around these. This is overshadowed by the fact that Goode might be open to discovering new avenues of thought during the performance, but he's made up his mind on the subject long before it made it to the stage; despite its lyricism, intriguing narrative web and engaging tone, God/Head feels constrained by its own formality, allowing some of the performances' most intriguing aspects—the scripts on the table, the guest instructions—to slip away, underexplored. Even angry, Goode controls himself far too much; if he's reading his anger off a script in an attempt to mirror and hence analyze the preacher-tone he so aptly describes earlier in the show, this device falls flat because it removes the candidly confrontation element which he is inherently seeking throughout the piece.
Let me set the accounts straight: this a show packed with potential, and working under well-developed, nuanced and articulated theatrical paradigms which Goode masters. What's missing is the engagement with content, a further consideration of the implications of these formal devices in splitting such rich verse into trivial pursuits. The guest is also a crucial presence, changing the rhythm and tone of each performance; on the evening I saw God/Head, Goode had invited a collaborator and admirer—critic Maddy Costa—as his guest; it felt slightly self-indulgent, particularly as it gave a forced turn to the evening—this reflected on Goode's own performance and the strictness of the show's theatrical language. It gave the performance a talk-show feel, but it felt closed, as if the host had invited a thoughtful admirer to share the stage. Costa brought a personal and intriguing narrative to the show, but Goode's relationship with her onstage felt undefined, uncertain and problematic.
The process of identification with the stories which Goode presents to us marks a change in the tone of the piece, but not in the performer engaging with us; this is the striking off-shoot of Goode's dialogue with theatrical narrative and devices—in attempt to speak to us directly, he becomes disembodied from his own experience, without any external risk to shift this—whose possibility lies in the appearance of the guest. Goode has crafted a fragile, insightful and intelligent performance packed with thoughts, but it's hard to share that thinking with him.