Woah, Radiohole is crazy and awesome! Lat week I watched Radiohole’s ‘Whatever, Heaven Allows’ on on the boards tv.
Whatever, Heaven Allows is based on Paradise Lost by John Milton, and All That Heaven Allows by Douglas Sirk. However, the piece is by Radiohole, so it is not your typical traditional theatrical experience. When I was done watching the piece, I felt completely overwhelmed. The piece hit me on a visceral level, not an intellectual or emotional one. I felt strange in my gut. Although, throughout the piece I was very intellectually engaged, constantly trying to make connections and garner ‘sense’ from the piece.
The piece breaks the fourth wall in its first moments. An actor walks out and speaks directly to the audience. At first it seems that he is beginning a melodramatic, intense, existential performance. However, then he begins to directly address the audience, talking to them about how they can exit the theatre, layering in existential problems onto this literal task. Using biblical images in a mundane, daily setting, which prepares us for the ridiculousness of the piece.
Then we see a parody of the 1955 ‘All That Heaven allows’ film credits. Each character is a stereotypical archetype, but ever so slightly, well really ever so blatantly, off. Already we are prepared for the harsh juxtapositions in this piece: Heightened, even biblical, versus daily/mundane as well as film/projection versus human action. We are also now set up for direct address to the audience. The actors even refer to each other by name, asking if they are ‘ready’. This meta-theatricality creates a whole new level of ‘realness’, which sharply contrasts with the heightened perfomativity in much of the piece.
This piece explores gender performativity by going to extremes. The main character has time with her ‘lady friends’ in a heightened, stereotypical but exploded way. Interestingly, it is the men in the piece who present this time with ‘lady friends’ to the audience. We therefore know that we are seeing not necessarily how women behave, but how they are meant to behave from the male perspective. The men in the piece are also heightened according to gender stereotypes. They prance around in plaid with guns. But it is not only traditional gender roles that are satirized tin this piece, but also feminism and coming out. All of our roles are attacked and held up to the light.
In this piece patriarchal, constructed reality, as seen through the lens of All That heaven Allows, and Paradise Lost, is exaggerated to the point of grotesqueness and ridiculousness. The entire piece, although experimental in nature, feels very modern and of this world. There were times watching the piece that I would feel lost but I would always again be grounded by a moment of connection to something familiar to me. Even in moments when I did not recognize the action of the character(s), I always felt like I knew what was happening on some level. I think that this is because each character and each scene touched on personas and scenarios deeply ingrained in western culture. Although he language was often deconstructed and the physicality extreme, I still resonated with all of the images because they touched on something that I know inherently; ideas and roles sewn deep into the fabric of western civilization. By exploring western culture in such an exploded way, the piece makes the viewers uncomfortable seeing what they know, and forces them think again about what they know of their own culture. The piece exposes ‘truths’ that we take for granted, to be ridiculous, harmful, and threatening.
The piece uses humor to do this. Which is a good thing because if it didn’t it would be utterly impossible to watch. Or it would simply turn into a melodrama instead of a deconstructed satire. At any rate, it would be as effective. Through making us laugh at these strange scenarios (which really are not so foreign to us), we can express together as an audience our uncomfortability. We have a release of energy valve built in so that we can alleviate some pressure and then continue to watch the show. Also, we can have fun before we realize how uncomfortable we are. It sneaks up on us.
The themes in Paradise Lost and All That Heaven Allows are very present in the piece. In discussing Paradise Lost, Critic Julia M. Walker argues that because Eve “neither recognizes nor names herself … she can know herself only in relation to Adam.” This concept is explored in the piece. The heroine is constantly in relationship to a male figure. Either hoping for one to come, falling in love, grieving for the loss of her husband, or falling in love with her new lover. Both Eve in Paradise Lost and the widow in All that Heaven Allows are defined by the men in their life. And so too with the heroine in Whatever, Heaven Allows. The tropes of sin and codependence explored in the inspirational works are still incredibly present and indeed shape us as a society today as Radiohole’s piece shows.
Radiohole’s piece seems to contain many realities which all blur together. Each actor plays several different roles. We follow the basic plot of All That Heaven Allows, but we also see other stories interspersed throughout. One of the scenes that has stayed with me most clearly is a scene in which all the characters are drinking, throwing back drinks, excessively, clearly to get drunk. They start to miss their mouths, throwing the contents of their cups onto their faces. We see that it is not alcohol in the cups, but brown and red goo. It looks like blood and mud. All the while all the participants are laughing and chatting. This image of consumption that we so recognize as part of our culture is literally dirtying us. We are killing ourselves by consuming. We idolize consumption.
Idolatry is a huge theme in Paradise Lost and Radiohole’s piece explores what we idolize as a culture, and often it is not very pretty. One of these things is technology. Another is traditional gender roles. Another seems to be alcohol. There is one sequence in which all of the actors chug a PBR to classical music in old-fashioned poses. This kind of juxtapositions isolates that which we idolize and holds it up clearly for us to see
The set is very interesting. In the back is a projection screen, and in the middle is a large podium like structure, hanging off the ground, which looks like the commanding pad of a rocket ship. It is surrounded by a gold frame and really looks like something out of Star Trek. Jutting out from either side are what appear to be small screens. On either side there are similar, but smaller structures. Paradise Lost is about transitional journeys. It tells the story of Satan’s fall from heaven and decision to go back to earth to interact with mankind, and the story of Adam and Eve’s banishment from the Garden of Eden. The entire story starts in Hell. Interestingly, the entire story of our play starts in the theatre, in our society, in this day and age. It could be said that our starting place is hell in both circumstances. The other source material though, All That Heaven Allows, starts on earth. I don’t think that Radiohole is necessarily calling earth a hell, but it is exploring hellish elements of our society. Regardless, the spacecraft-like center point of the set symbolizes journey and liminal space. Liminal space is present not only literally in Paradise Lost as the ascent and descent to earth, but also in All That Heaven Allows when the main character is banished from her high class society for falling in love with a lower class man. All of the stories, both the source material and Radiohole’s piece, examine a fall from grace, gender roles, and what we depend on as a society.
Technology is a huge part of Whatever, Heaven Allows. Throughout the play we see projections, and screens are attached to many parts of the set. When the heroine of the play is grieving for her dead husband, she is told that she should get a TV. TV is pointed out here as an escapist vehicle. By having so much talk of television and references to screens, we the audience are made aware of our societal dependence on television and how that affects our view of reality.
Throughout the piece there is a woman dressed as a deer. She chain smokes and at the end she pees. She is sexy and innocent. I think that she represents the damsel like traditional female timid energy. But like everything in the piece, this is satirized. She is dressed up as a deer and transgresses this image by chain smoking. She gets scared and pees at the end, which very much symbolizes the feeling of fear that I had at the end of the piece.
The piece was challenging, exciting, engaging, uncomfortable, and made me think. I’m sure the experience would be extremely heightened had I seen it in the theatre and not online. Also, it is very much the kind of piece that I feel I need to see more than once to catch everything that is going on. The chaos though is part of the point. I’m glad I saw this piece, and challenging as it was to make sense of from an online viewing, I still took a lot away from it and I’m curious to research Radiohole more!
Walker, Julia M. (1998), Medusa’s Mirrors: Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, and the Metamorphosis of the Female Self, University of Delaware Press (pg. 166).