LADY GAGA: #ARTBIRTH by Athena Reich and Jack Trinco (Sara Schwartz Geller Productions). At Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley). Runs.
LADY GAGA: #ARTBIRTH by Athena Reich and Jack Trinco (Sara Schwartz Geller Productions). At Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley). Runs to September 3. $35-$45. ladygagainternational.com. See listing. Rating: NNN
Love her or hate her, Lady Gagas nasal growl, stompy dancing and flair for flamboyant visuals have earned her both accolades and eye rolls the world over. Lady Gaga: #ARTBIRTH garners a similarly mixed response.
#ARTBIRTH banks on star and co-writer Athena Reichs impressive impersonation of the pop icon, which fluctuates between caricature and tribute. In this pseudo-concert, she imagines a pregnant Gaga who decides to stage the ultimate piece of performance art: the onstage birth of a baby co-created through crowd-sourced sperm.
Its an aptly camp way to lampoon a pop star who will seemingly do anything to hold our attention. In Reich and co-writer Jack Trincos script, directed by Sara Schwartz Geller, Gaga milks every opportunity to turn her delivery into a mercilessly staged marketing stunt where no birthing by-product is wasted.
Its also a vessel to tell Reichs own story as a single lesbian who decided to conceive on her own. Of course, unlike in #ARTBIRTH, pregnancy doesnt always go according to plan. Reich finally achieved her own pregnancy through a long process of IVF, and wrote the show to help deal with the personal struggles she experienced along the way.
So while its a fantasy send up of Gaga herself, its also a surrealist exploration of Reichs own experience of motherhood, womanhood and the female body. And a critique of modern celebrity. And entertainment capitalism. With backup dancers, vaginal art and a giant inflatable pegasus.
But though heavy with theme and spectacle, #ARTBIRTH is awfully light on story. Beyond the milestones youd expect from a pregnancy narrative, theres little trajectory, and the show repeatedly returns to the same set of ideas. Most segments between songs go on too long, and while theyre often entertaining rarely shed any light on what the whole things about.
Fortunately, like Gaga, Reich outshines her material. Every time the shows running on empty, she injects it with enough glittery gasoline to eke out another mile. Reich is a showboat with a great set of pipes that bear an uncanny resemblance to Gagas own, and shes got more than a few aces up her sleeve. Her version of The Edge Of Glory rechristened here as The Edge Of Labour has her climbing over every inch of an upright piano while playing it (frequently upside-down). Its hilarious, impressive and savvy in a way that is rarely seen elsewhere in the show.
The thing is, Reich knows its a bit of a mess. Towards the end, she shouts incredulously: What the fuck did I create? Its a good question thats still lacking an answer.
If #ARTBIRTH could match the promise of its star, itd be an arrival to truly celebrate.