New York bathhouse acts as location for Amari Baraka’s play, where the audience has to disrobe and sweat alongside the actors.
A new revival of Amiri Baraka’s 1964 play The Dutchman – an erotically charged examination of racial relations of the day – is being staged this November. The original play is set in a subway car, which can make for a tense and claustrophobic setting at times, and the new staging recreates this atmosphere by transferring the staging from a theatre to an East Village bathhouse.
The play, directed by visual artist Rashid Johnson as part of Performa 13, the city’s performance art biennial, invites audience members into the Russian and Turkish Baths to watch the characters Clay and Lula, a black intellectual male and white seductress, wrangle with each other in a confrontation with tinges of violence and sexual tension. The setting, an unconditioned subway car, is recreated in the heat of the bathhouse, and creates an immersive journey for audience members and actors alike. The audience – which only numbers about a dozen per night – have to disrobe and wear the tunics that normal visitors to the baths wear.
Johnson explained the setting to The New York Times:
People have this expectation that theater and art are inherently generous, that they’re there to cater to them rather than to produce problems. And I was interested in this because I want to see something that pushes people up against their limits. The heat is an enormous factor in that. The level of comfort and discomfort is very important to me.
The unusual setting seems to have intrigued theatergoers as the play’s three week run is already sold out.
Images Joshua Bright for NYT