Perhaps it's just TBA fatigue, but I struggled to engage with Gob Squad's Kitchen (You've Never Had It So Good). The pieces seemed to be there: technical mastery, crack improvisational skills, some genuine belly laughs, audience participation that is neither obnoxious nor jarring. Yet I still found myself weary after the performance (though not in a wholly bad way).
Kitchen isn't the easiest to describe. Using live video feeds from a backstage set (which the audience gets to tromp through before the performance begins), the German-British theater collective Gob Squad re-creates several films from Andy Warhol's Factory studios. Mercifully, it's a loose re-creation, one that allows the performers space to comment on the differences between 1965 and 2012, the absurdity of some of Warhol's experiments (why would he film someone sleeping for five hours, and why would anyone watch it?) and the foggy line between performer and audience member. The four performers are a talented, engaging bunch, with easy comedic chemistry and a tendency for offbeat but perceptive remarks.
Over the course of the show (which, at two hours, runs longer than most at TBA), the performers select audience members from the auditorium and add them to the action. One sits for an extended screen test; another replaces the performer who has pretended to be asleep. Some of these audience members don headsets, through which the performers feed them lines. It's a far more successful bit of audience participation than I've seen before, without any of the squirmy awfulness that so often accompanies the conceit.
Yet parts of Kitchen feel limp. Though compelling performance does not require an obvious narrative arc, I still found myself grasping for more of a through-line. Kitchen rambles from meaty (the sole female performer, an Edie Sedgwick lookalike named Sharon, delivers an intentionally overblown but enthralling monologue about women's liberation) to banal, and I sometimes just wanted to hit fast-forward.
That said, Kitchen has continued to bounce about my brain since Thursday's performance. It's both goofy and challenging, both entertaining and puzzling. In spite of the occasional tiresome moment, it's not a show that's easily dismissed.
SEE IT: Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park St. 8:30 pm. $25-$20. pica.org/tba.