The house lights are still up when Mark Dendy, dressed in a military suit, clambers onto a stationary bicycle and begins to pedal, going nowhere. Downstage, a block of ice drips steadily into a fish tank: an oblique reference to the melting polar caps. Welcome to Dystopian Distractions!, an evening of scenes that range from raucously entertaining to violent and macabre.
A variety show mash-up of dance, spoken word, physical theater, music, and stage design, Dystopian Distractions! is Dendy’s dazzling and courageous commentary on America. It’s a wild, satirical romp through the wasteland of popular culture and modern warfare — subjects that could easily lead to a heavy-handed slog. Instead, Dendy achieves a rare and heady blend of high entertainment and smart social criticism.
Among the many outstanding “distractions” of this production is Dendy’s solo. Seated downstage of the curtain, a gas mask pulled over his head, he animates an audio recording of Donald Rumsfeld; with his shoulders shuddering with every chuckle and his hands stirring and stabbing the air, he transforms a vapid interview into a riveting work of performance art.
Many ghosts visited the stage over the course of this evening: Jimi Hendrix in his fringed jacket, Elvis Presley and his gilded toilet. For a few golden minutes, Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” comes to life. Then we’re thrown back into the rushing stream of the 24-hour news cycle, reality TV, and infomercials starring “Ducky Doo Doo,” the oversexed toddler who prances about in kitten heels and flashes us with the American flag under her miniskirt.
Throughout the hysteria moves a young woman dressed all in white. Whether encouraging children to set aside their toy soldiers or subjecting a man to a session of water boarding, she moves slowly and intentionally. Like the ice that will drip until the environment cools, she is the symbol of the American spirit, responding, as she must, to our actions and inactions.