In his new one-man show, “Le Squat,” Paul Herwig, co-founder of Off-Leash Area, brilliantly conjures a derelict building full of mad, frenetic, frightening characters and life on the fringes of Parisian culture, as well as a discourse on art and the imagination. Poignant, disturbing and thought provoking, the 80-minute show is also a riveting metaphor for the processes of art making and theater producing.
In the 1980s, after finishing up a stint in a theater class in Paris, Herwig lived in a squat with the motley crew he re-imagines in this work. As he migrates from character to character — a dissolute chanteuse, a collage artist named Horse, a fat man with a penchant for blow-up dolls, a quiet sweet fellow who fashions whimsical objects from toilet paper, a Damien Hirst-like blowhard grappling with a crucifix and animal parts — Herwig assembles, uncovers, deconstructs and reassembles objects scattered throughout the small stage (in the garage he and co-founder/director Jennifer Isles use as their theater workshop) to simultaneously create character, art and living space.
Every hook, cranny, curtain and hat plays an integral role in this imaginative journey through memory, madness and art making. And as the final assemblage, an exhibition recalling an art movement known as Art-Cloche (or ClochArt, a pun on the French word meaning homeless bum), is fully realized, so is Herwig’s genius.
“Le Squat” isn’t perfect. The Minister of Culture, with his capitalist (and phallic) attempts at artistic and commercial domination, seems too overbearing in a work that otherwise skillfully glides between the artistic temperaments and stylistic manifestations of the other characters. And one fears for Herwig’s well being in the stiflingly hot garage, especially when he dons wool coats and scarves to portray one of his memorable characters.
But “Le Squat” is also a period piece with timeless relevance. In the sensibilities, art and personalities of Herwig’s characters lives a spirit of creativity that freely traverses the boundaries of discipline, respectability and materiality. Through Herwig’s portrayals we experience not only their psychological limitations, but also their spiritual and artistic liberation.
“Le Squat,” Off Leash Area, 8 p.m., through June 27. Our Garage, Minneapolis. Attendance by reservation only, 612-724-7372.