By Marcina Zaccaria
As one of the NEA-4, battling obscenity charges along with Karen Finley, Holly Hughes, and Tim Miller, John Fleck was a pivotal figure in a Supreme Court battle. Conscious of his tone and tempo in Blacktop Highway, he is precise and unstoppable.
John Fleck interacts with his own image on three screens. Like so many performance artists, he releases a sequence of words and images, perfectly calibrating his reaction to his screen self. Is it the influence of old Hollywood glamour that keeps Blacktop Highway looking and sounding so distinct? John Fleck really gets to his physical core of the work, and doesn’t let the audience off the hook. To his credit, he has appeared in Star Trek, Carnivale, and Falling Down. He plays over ten characters in Blacktop Highway – to be in the story and commenting on the story is a joy for this performance artist.
With rhythm and meter that would put to shame any out-of-sync musician, John Fleck’s opening monologue evokes film noir. He still means for it to be that unsettling. Originally found to be obscene for his use of a toilet object, props play less a role in this disquieting production. Appearing in boxing shoes and shorts, John Fleck sets a stage where dance, monologue, puppetry, and film reveal a dark, sad world. With extreme close-ups and grotesque masks, his love of style doesn’t overtake his need to make a statement.
As the actor, John Fleck breaks out of the strenuous task of inhabiting the characters to ask the audience how they are doing. This exit from the story builds a fascinating dynamic; the audience questions the everyday person, the performance artist, and a character in the story. All three are riveting. The fine collaborative efforts of Director Randee Trabitz, Costume Designer Christina Wright, Video Designer Heather Fipps, Puppet Designer by Christine Papalexis, and Lighting Designer Anne Militello are all held to critique.
On the back wall, Fleck comments on Roland Barthes and Foucault, sparking the thinking of an inner scholar. Providing a frame, moments feel like photo stills in a fantastic world. Structurally clear, there is enough time to be disgusted or fascinated. John enters the stage with makeshift wings, making a strong design statement. A brightly colored angelic sequence at the end of the show is a breathtaking departure.
On this long road of theater making, John Fleck flexes his technical expertise to maintain his position among artists. Though moments of the show seem too dark for those who don’t have a taste for it, surprise keeps Blacktop Highway refreshing. At the end of the show, Fleck appears in the upper tier of the audience, happily waving, providing a clever end to a winding journey.
Blacktop Highway played from November 4-19 at Dixon Place, located at 161A Chrystie Street, between Rivington and Delancey.