August 4, 2014
In the lower level of HERE Arts Center, you are met by a mumbling man in earthy plaids telling
you where to exit “when the fire comes.” He sits in a corner amidst eclectic gadgetry and begins pushing
buttons. Composer Freddi Price remains there for Robin Frohardt’s The Pigeoning with stern focus
cemented on his face, filling campy Fender Rhodes, dramatic Wurlitzer, and mournful muted trumpet into
Frohardt’s neurotic color scheme.
We meet Frank. He has an office. He appreciates a wide, upside-down peace sign’s distance
between objects. When he sips his coffee, the Styrofoam must be wiped clean before subsequent sipping.
If he touches himself, each point of contact must be similarly sterilized. It’s ok if he damages his
nameplate, however; those are indefinitely replaceable. Without words, Frohardt maximally develops her
protagonist’s character in minimal time, polishing actions like gems.
Frank is always surrounded by hooded figures with mesh faces. These aren’t harbingers of death
so much as virtuoso puppeteers. The Pigeoning uses techniques from Bunraku puppetry, in which one
offstage voice speaks for each ornate vessel. Frank, though, never speaks. We only hear his office
manual, who has a coldly polite feminine tone.
When reviewing “Office Safety,” the voice glitches, demanding that Frank address a disturbance
in the office. Frank’s solitude and dependence on the manual are so severe his own thoughts are wrapped
in its synthetic voice, ostensibly an external stimulus. We encounter everything through Frank’s
perception of what he is present to experience as he masochistically reconfigures everything that happens
in reality at himself.
Frohardt’s visual wit is spellbinding, but occasionally compromises the pacing of the plot.
Montages illustrate Frank consulting his manual on “Interspecies Conspiracies.” Failed camouflage
ranges from crashing RC pigeons to unconvincing pigeon garb. Ultimately, he is electrocuted climbing a
telephone post to fetch a pecking bird. These elaborate sequences each move the plot one small notch,
feeling like live-action Roadrunner cartoons, yet are so diverting we forget the performative precision it
takes to execute the actions.
Whether scenes be methodical constructions or dragging shtick, Frohardt’s stage is collage space
poetically combining humdrum images. Frank flies, first among pigeons, but eventually alongside his
manual. His guide becomes visually synonymous with that which plagues him. It is an antihero; its hold
on his autonomy is so strong it pushes Frank to overcome his debilitating tidiness.
chapter is so compelling he retrieves a Polaroid of a suspicious pigeon from a trashcan.
After braving the pigeon-conspired flood, Frank sits, surrounded by pigeons, clinging not to his
manual, but to a sign prophesying doom. Nobody won; there has been a shift in obsession. The very need
for order that required the manual allowed Frank to overcome its preventative neurosis in favor of a more
An underwater return of the nameplate shows Frank reclaiming, or perhaps creating for the
first time, his identity. Reality now seems to happen freely around rather than to Frank as clenches his
sign where his manual once nested.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY--Jonathan Matthews