Absurdity is one aspect of modernity that you really can't escape from. We are awash in its plentitude. In fact, we’re so acclimated to the real absurdities of the world that we hardly even notice them anymore. A couple of hard examples: in less than three years, we will have destroyed 2/3 of all wild animals on Earth; 50% of all U.S. produce is thrown away while one in nine human beings starve to death; and so forth.
To make matters worse, at a time when we need visionary philosopher kings to lead us out of this desert of depravity to the promised land of cooperation, peace, and basic decency, the modern world has never seen such pure idiocy in places of high authority. (The only thing missing from a certain orangutan-haired solar eclipse-staring man-child located below the 49th parallel is a big red nose and big red shoes.) And so to actively seek out absurdity, when so much is given away for free, seems like a redundant inclination – like ordering ketchup on the side for a ketchup sandwich.
But you could not have found better absurdity value, dollar for dollar – or walrus bark for walrus bark, as the case would be – than when the circus came to town, to wit: when Matthew Poki McCorkle and the GIFT HORSE performance troupe, a good old fashioned traveling road caravan of merriment and buffoonery, tumbled into Mouat Park as if falling out of the frames of a Fellini movie, for two rollicking mid-Summer evening shows of pure enchantment.
The festivities began just before dusk, when the GIFT HORSE players, all dolled up in thrift store bridesmaids gowns and white racoon eye paint, began to inconspicuously mingle into the audience of 50-odd innocent and unsuspecting souls for some one-on-one crowd work. It was hard to focus on your personalized conversation and not stare at the hyper-realistic big teeth implants that the players wore, the same way you can't help but stare at the haute couture of Walmart shoppers, or the wild untrimmed ear hair blasting out of your grandpa's head like late August corn stalks.
The actual show part of the show didn't so much start as it just sort of seamlessly appeared, the same way a rainbow just all of a sudden appears in the sky, when the stage left duo of Islando Sparks and Bemya Nymh began singing a ridiculously high-gibberish walrus barking "song" – the exact same dinner table gibberish and barking that used to get you sent to your room if you didn't stop that nonsense right now, buster. When the song continued well into the five minute mark, that was our cue, collectively, as an audience, that this was not going to stop, that this what the show was all about, so we might as well just take our brains out of her heads and settle back and enjoy the antics to come – Bark Bark Bark Barkbarkbark!
Bit for bit, the show had some of the most ridiculously non-stop hyper-ADD activity this side of The Eric Andre Show. It would be a fool’s errand to try and describe the show’s "plot" or "narrative" or "story." It was not unlike a David Lynch film; you don't try to "figure it out," that's not the point. There was a coarse outline, to be sure, but if you were looking for some kind of overarching intelligibly or coherence, you were in the wrong damn meadow.
McCorkle's kimono'd Chaplin-esque character was the central prankster around which the rest of the characters and the show constellated. An early solo bit, a three-tiered balancing glass trick, seemed designed to announce his professionalism as a clown, in the highest sense of the lineage, and that he and his fellows performers weren't all just recent psyche ward escapees, burp-farting in drag and flashing their pantaloons uncontrollably out in the woods (although that was certainly one way to enjoy the show).
The Walrus Radio Egg Asteroid bit soon made its first appearance (there were a lot of eggs in the show) and was central to the whole affair; it would have numerous callbacks in numerous incarnations. There was, at one point, possibly, something resembling a love story, maybe, but it was kind of hard to tell; there was always something going on with any one performer in a non-bit aside that easily distracted your attention. (One can only hope that The Digging Out of The Painful Booger bit was actually part of the show.)
The Milking of The Walrus's Four Teats – correction: The Milking of The Walrus's Four Talking Teats – was a high point of hilarity, and Nayana Fielkov's expert headstand, where she directed her head into an oversized goldfish bowl, complete with water and goldfish, was another big crowd favorite. (One can imagine the rehearsal with the other players: "Yes yes yes, a headstand, that's all very fine and good; but can you put your head into a fish bowl, with a fish in it, when you do that?")
The "My Cloaka" song was a hilarious show stopper, brilliantly performed by Janessa Jan-essa, and was stuffed with vaginal innuendo up the wazoo (puns intended). Although the flyers billed GIFT HORSE as an all ages show, I'm not sure how this tune, or some of the other overtly sexual stuff, with upsidedown heads popping out of crotches and so forth, got past the censor. Regardless, it flew way over the heads of all the kids in the audience, so no harm no foul.
Near the end, there was something resembling a dinner scene, and which featured Sadye Osterloh on the tabletop, performing The Dance in Gravy Boat Shoes. It was wonderfully inspired and completely ridiculous – and it also looked incredibly painful. At one point, the dinner started to feel like it was going to form an eye to the hurricane for all the silliness that had come before, as if there might be some kind of big coherent denouement in the works. But, thankfully, the whole scene was just a thinly disguised setup for the show's rowdy unravelment, that was one part Luis Bunuel's Beggar's Banquet and two parts kindergarten class sugar OD tantrum riot. As the show drew to its final destruction, no one would have been surprised if a live rhinoceros had come crashing across the stage wearing a flaming tutu made out of kielbasa singing the closing number to Götterdämmerung. The show was that good.
Director Matthew Poki McCorkle, with his friendly demeanor and Snidely Whiplash handlebar moustache, was born and raised north of San Francisco, in Santa Rosa. He picked up a chemical engineering degree at UC Davis before taking the next logical career step – i.e., clowning, which had been a growing side passion during his studies. A Bill Irwin for a new breed of vaudeville-inspired millennials, McCorkle has worked solo and in ensembles, bringing inert objects to life through illusion, invisible string manipulation, and closeup magic. He is particularly well-known for his hoop work. He's traveled extensively, performing throughout Europe and North America, and has passport stamps for Germany, Dubai, the Philippines, and Taiwan as well.
McCorkle is one of many owners and artists-in-residence at the The Lookout Arts Quarry , a ten-year-old arts collective which also stables the GIFT HORSE players. According to one of the players, who gave her nom de clown as Noodles, the troupe writes and co-produces all of their material and they travel frequently in their tricked out Freightliner Sprinter Box Truck. Quarry personnel always have some kind of show or something going on, such as their annual three-day weekend Sh'Bang Festival, so it's a good idea to keep your pulse on their social medias so you don't miss their next visually stunning shadowplay bouillabaisse of vaudeville, cabaret, puppetry, and magic.
It's quite a relief from the hardcore seriousness of the daily news headlines to just sit back and relax and watch a group of eight young people out in a meadow barking like walruses, sticking their heads in fishbowls, and flashing their knickers just because, for a solid hour plus. Few things can provide the pure joy and entertainment that these young players bring to their shows. No island brew, or homemade mead, or Satvian smoke, or wild sexual escapade can compete (okay well, maybe that last one is a stretch).
McCorkle and Fielkov will be back to Salt Spring in October at ArtSpring, for two more performances of "Falling Awake," their highly-acclaimed award-winning Fringe Festival work, which they performed here in April. Props to Salt Spring's Graffiti Theatre, which has served as the presenter for all of these shows.
The Salt Spring Island COUGAR is open to art, literary works, poetry, creative non-fiction, photography, and other submissions from local residents.