On the surface, Transitions is an absurd yet addictive mix of stereophonic effects, live video, geometric movement and improvisation created by comedic musician Reggie Watts and playwright/director Tommy Smith.
From the very beginning of the piece we are tipped off that this will not be a linear narrative, when a young red headed white man comes out and introduces Reggie Watts, but the next person to enter the stage unexpectedly is a white woman. When on stage she recites yet another sort of introduction to the art we are getting ready to see, and establishes that the artistic work in the piece seeks to “challenge perspective in a seemingly unchanging world.” In terms of logic I am not entirely sure if the preface given is in regard to the following movie sequence that plays, or if she’s speaking for the whole of the piece. I am certain it pertains to both.
At the beginning of the piece the movement feels like with each change we are moving further and further away from reality. When we finally meet Reggie Watts, he is a large black man with funky hair, dressed in white garb, and is speaking with an English accent. Yet again he reaffirms that the world we are entering is unfamiliar by saying, “What world is this, let me just say that the answer is not to be arrived at so soon…” The first time through this piece I somehow missed all of these warning signs, and it took me watching the piece a second time to understand even vaguely that throughout the piece we would be dealing with distance and perspective.
Reggie’s ability to play on words, beyond the contemporary vernacular is impressive, and extremely hilarious. There are moments where I thought that he might be taking a page from Shakespeare’s work, but its simply coming from his brain. In the progression of his Shakespearean speech, I loose the trajectory of his thoughts. He is speaking passionately, and yet it seems as if he isn’t saying anything. There are plenty of other times in the performance that his work runs off into an abstract land, and you’re left wondering what the end point was. No matter how annoying it may be, I know that Reggie does in fact have a purpose. However, it drove me crazy trying to figure out where the serious content of the piece was.
In one particular speech Reggie begins by saying in a very serious tone by saying, “I don’t know if you guys remember you were when it happened. I was in the place where we heard about it first. I was on second ave. lower east side Manhattan. I was on the phone, and then I lost the call…” As he continues to speak about this moment “where he first heard,” he describes two flying objects and an aftermath of two smoke clouds. Given these circumstances, my brain immediately jumps to the events of 911, as most of our brains would. But not Reggie, instead he continues to describe how New York was hit by a solar flare—which is entirely possible, it still is absurd.
Perhaps one of the biggest keys into Reggie’s work comes during on of his transition. After reciting this Shakespearean monologue, he starts djing and singing this perhaps improvised song about technology while wearing a shirt that reads, “subvert the subversion.” Finally in this moment, it becomes clear that is his purpose with this piece.
For the most part, moment-by-moment I understood the logic of the performance, but I had a hard time understanding what larger questions or message the piece was presenting. While reading thoughts around the work, it became clear that I wasn’t the only one who was struggling with understanding work as a whole.
In order to better understand Reggie’s work I had to watch another piece of his work, so I watched a music video of his called “Fuck Shit Stack.” After watching this video, which is out-right hilarious, I understood Reggie’s work so much more. He seems to be really interested in the origin of meanings, particularly words, and finding away challenge the meaning we place subject through the labels we place on it.
For audiences who have seen more of Reggie’s work, they say that his work tends to mirror itself. Most of the physical media images are re-used, and the structure of them are beyond similar. This is a curious idea for me, because I would like to know why Reggie would remake a new project that only slightly deviates from one previous created? If I were to attempt to answer this question given Reggie’s work, I would guess that because of his interest in subversion around how we define art.
I couldn’t tell whether or not I hated this performance, or whether I loved it. As I watched the piece, I constantly wanted to stop it and find something else to watch, so I could actually write a review. It was really a tribute to Reggie Watt’s showmanship, and the fact that I had to write a review about it that I stayed engaged. This is a piece of theatre that will unravel for me throughout the years.