Given the range of controversial expressions artists from Damien Hirst and Angela Singer to Lady Gaga and Skinny Puppy have achieved concerning (and with) the bodies of animals in their work, I vividly imagined what awaited audiences in last week's premiere of Eating Animals. If anything, that anticipation was heightened knowing adapter/ director Tony Perucci and The Performance Collective's prior successes in raising the stakes during their examinations of gender, privilege, multinational biochemical and pharmaceuticals, and political protest.
Well, win some, lose some. These recipients of a 2010 Indies Arts Award didn't take the safe way out—although this production is distinctly "safer" than some of its previous offerings. Instead it appears that the group never fundamentally figured out how to effectively stage Jonathan Safran Foer's 2009 best-seller, an investigation and critique of factory farming, and his accompanying argument for vegetarianism.
Instead, these artists appear to work their way through the text, eliminating different ways not to stage Foer's book. The result seems more like a piece about a process than a finished work itself. At various points, actors identify themselves as "Not Jonathan Safran Foer"; at others, they lobby or physically prevent performer Peter Pendergrass from showing putatively graphic video footage of tortured animals on blurry screens beneath a mid-stage platform. A number of strategies amount to theatrical groundouts, including one in which entire chunks of the author's rationale are solemnly delivered to unmoving stuffed animals on stage.
To an unanticipated degree, Perucci and his cast appear hamstrung as they consider what forms of display and representation can work—without completely alienating an audience—in dealing with the inhumane treatment of animals and the fact that humans choose to eat them. Let's freely stipulate it's a theatrical Gordian knot before we conclude that the knot remains largely intact at the end of this problematic work.