A show titled Offending the Audience creates certain expectations. What's coming—sexist vitriol? Dead baby jokes? Two hours of blackfacing? But the title is also a weird sort of spoiler alert: If you ready yourself to be offended, how appalled will you actually be when the performers start pooping onstage?
In Liminal Performance Group's adaptation of this seminal anti-play—written in 1966 by Austrian dramatist Peter Handke, when he was 23 years old with a Beatles coif and round sunglasses—the actors do remarkably little offending. (And they definitely don't drop trou and defecate.) On opening night, the audience members did a whole lot more to offend one another, including texting, singing, snapping selfies, talking back to performers and loudly departing for the restroom. Compare that to the play's premiere almost 50 years ago, when the well-heeled Frankfurt crowd burst into applause and boos as the actors declaimed that the stage represented nothing and unleashed a litany of insults.
I'm not sure Liminal's version is entirely successful—Handke was once an enfant terrible of the literary world, but his smashing of the fourth wall and junking of plot and character doesn't feel so revolutionary in 2015. Even those who enjoy theater about theater will roll their eyes and check their watches at times. But it's still a welcome alternative to innocuous crowd-pleasers.
From the beginning, the company lays out a different set of rules. The seats are onstage in the small black-box theater—all the chairs in the audience are marked "RESERVED"—and a computerized voice tells us to turn on our cellphones and use flash photography. An imposing man, his face covered in gold flake, neighs and brays while petting a stuffed rodent. (The rodent is either a guinea pig or a small rabbit, and the man is German-born, Seattle-based artist Misha Neininger, who helped devise the show with director John Berendzen.) Video cameras transmit live black-and-white footage onto one wall. Another wall shows a live text-message feed—we're given a phone number, and the result is a stream of Beyoncé GIFs and boner jokes. It's clear: We are the performers. There is no show without us.
There is still a seven-member ensemble, which is mainly there to talk all at once, weave through the audience to check our armpits for sweatiness and don ridiculous headwear. But even when the actors are at their most animated—as when they lambast us as "lonely cock blockers" and "gun-loving, carpet-munching Clackistanis"—the best lines still come from audience members. On opening weekend, a few women came in late. One wore a Seahawks T-shirt, and another had on rhinestone-encrusted jeans. They laughed loudly and were promptly christened "the girls from the mall"—and told, via the anonymous text feed, to go home.
see it: Offending the Audience is at Action/Adventure Theatre, 1050 SE Clinton St., liminalgroup.org, 567-8309. 7:30 pm Friday-Sunday and 2:30 pm Sunday. Through Nov. 22. $10-$25.