Ubu Rock

By Drukman, Steven | Artforum International, Summer 1996 | Go to article overview

Ubu Rock


Drukman, Steven, Artforum International


It is often remarked that, in 1898, when Pa Ubu brandished a toilet brush and shouted "merdre" at an unsuspecting French audience, the avant-garde was born. One century later, Andrei Belgrader and Shelley Berc's Ubu Rock, based on Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi, underlines the move from Modernist transgressive shock to post-Modernist parodic glee. More freewheeling romp than Artaudian bit of cruelty, this musical-theater piece, a burlesque of pop-culture quotations, self-reflexivity, and good old-fashioned scatology, blunts what was once cutting edge.

The "plot" (such as it exists) begins with an eight-member chorus harmonizing on the word shit. Like the original Jarry anti-masterpiece, Ubu Rock flips the bird at Shakespeare's Macbeth, as Ma and Pa Ubu plot to kill King Wenceslas, take over the world, and be "filthy, fucking, shit-stinking rich." Of course, Ma Ubu (Francine Torres) worries that her husband - who enchants us with a song about his political ambitions ("I can fart anywhere/Scratch my pubic hair") - lacks the starch for full-throttle fascism. Bursting out of her leopard-skin stretch suit like a zaftig Pebbles Flintstone, she grabs her enormous breasts and crows: "Grow a dick, you fat fuck!" Thus begins Pa Ubu's bloody campaign.

Ubu Rock employs the requisite sight gags, most of them supremely inventive. A "debrainer" machine pops brains around Andrei Both's spongy set like an automated tennis-ball server. Limbs and dead babies rain on the audience from flies, and the tsar's royal robe covers the entire playing area. …

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