We may be having a cold winter, but with so much political hot air swirling around, it’s as if the whole nation were trapped under some vast, puffy quilt stuffed with rhetoric. The piety and patriotism, the hands on the heart, the earnest analyses and reassessments and scrutinizing of campaign declarations so vacuous they defy the laws of chemistry—thank goodness all this stuff provides one useful service, namely supplying a perfect context for Lawrence Goldhuber’s new theater piece at P.S. 122.
Everything about The Life and Times of Barry Goldhubris is oversize except the work itself, which is quite concise: It runs less than an hour and has a cast of one. But that one is Goldhuber, and the guy fills a room just by showing up. For years he was an enormous, unforgettable presence in the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company; more recently he’s been choreographing and performing on his own.
Life and Times, written and directed by Goldhuber and David Brooks, is a kind of biopic in which he plays America itself. Framed by video footage on three screens, Goldhuber contains multitudes. First he personifies a mythological birth, diving into the world as the heavens shake; then he’s the star in a living-my-dream success story; and when that story ends in a locked ward, he becomes all the demons racketing through his own brain. Huge video images of his face assail him as he rolls on the floor in a straitjacket shouting, “Why does everything happen to me, me, me?”
That cry—Me, me, me—may be the most nakedly American moment in the piece. There are plenty of cultural references here, from the highway footage onscreen to Goldhuber’s desperate mumble, “Be all you can be I can’t believe it’s not butter it’s the real thing where’s the beef?” But more telling than any of these is simply Goldhuber, embodying a narcissism as big as the world. In a final, raging dance, he struggles to get his giant self out of that straitjacket, then bursts free singing “Only in America.” It’s as scary as the nightly news.