L.A.-based artist and filmmaker Miranda July’s new performance piece, Things We Don’t Understand and Are Definitely Not Going to Talk About potentially the basis for a new film opened last night at the Kitchen for a sold-out weekend run to an enthusiastic crowd, which included David Byrne. Things, in essence, is a love triangle, a clichéd story you might see on a Saved By the Bell rerun. But July’s gentle charm and engaging use of video, audience participation, and a dead cat demonstrate how the story itself can be much less important than the telling.
Existential longing is the central theme of Things and is pervasive in July’s work the ordinary struggles of human emotions like dissatisfaction, jealousy, and loneliness. July enlists a couple and a single guy from the audience to portray the triangle in Things, both onstage and via live video, shot backstage. The real couple portrayed the staged couple with their own real tenderness, and it’s difficult to imagine how this could translate to a film version. The democratization of the stage is a key element of Things, that art is not the exclusive realm of, say, David Byrne or Miranda July, but finding meaning in the ordinary stories of folks like me and you (and everyone we know). Ben Lerman