Presented by P.S. 122, Penny Arcade, and Steve Zehentner at P.S. 122, 150 First Ave., NYC, Feb. 14-March 10.
Counting intermissions is difficult in "New York Values," Penny Arcade's—let's call it "experience." There are many of them, short and informal. Every few minutes, spontaneously, she'll stop what she's doing—the rant, thought, idea—and announce an intermission. Then she'll resume. Or there's a lighting change, or a half-minute break, or the show's featured attraction, the Jon Benet Memorial Dancers (Kenny "Angel" Davis, Anna Curtis, Freeze, Linda Martini, PJ Mehaffey, Julia Atlas Muz, Patti Van Dyke, Kelly Webb, Jodi Wetzel) will emerge, gyrate, and nakedly frolic about. It's very party, very live-in, very '60s-era "happening."
It's also commandingly political. This time, Arcade wonders what happens when "Bohemia becomes mainstream and uptown becomes downtown." Now over 50, she'd know—her career taking her from teenage notoriety as a Warhol acolyte to the NEA-bashing "Bitch!Dyke!Faghag!Whore!"
This time, with Sept. 11 as a backdrop, Arcade mourns the commercialization and mainstreaming of culture—of the New York downtown scene especially. (Look around the East Village—across from P.S. 122 a condo is rising—and see her point.) While a loop of images plays on video banks above the action, Arcade launches fist-raising assaults, such as one on cell phones, that are right on, man. Other times, she socks us with reality, like when discussing how the show's $840 quarter-page ad in a magazine used to be the figure for her entire budget.
Downtown "used to be a mecca for the misfit," but "New York has been invaded by America," she says, a place where "bourgeois bohemian" is everyday folk, "like an Izod and a nose ring." So irony-filled is "New York Values" that Arcade even quotes Barry Goldwater while questioning the Patriot Act, now pending in Congress, which will hinder Americans' right to assemble. "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice," she intones, mixing amusement with foreboding. Just right, in other words, for the bohemian atmosphere.