Best known for being one of the fabled NEA4, a group of performing artists who were denied funding in 1990 by the National Endowment for the Arts due to allegations of obscenity, firebrand John Fleck continues his quest: to blur the lines between performance art and theater. BLACKTOP HIGHWAY premiered at the REDCAT in Los Angeles in 2015 to critical acclaim. Directed by long-time associate Randee Trabitz, Fleck’s play has returned to the Odyssey Theater in 2018 to the delight of his devoted fans.
In his solo performance, John Fleck does it all, including using his body as the stage (with a miniature car running down the stripes on his shorts until it crashes into his private parts) and creatively employing puppetry, miniature props, pre-recorded vignettes, real-time videos, and animal mimicry. On top of that, Fleck plays each role himself. All at a pace almost too fast for the human brain to track. At the same time, he lets the audience know early on that he is making a film. Thus, reality and fantasy quickly become intertwined.
From an eerie beginning focused on a flashlight illuminating his face and the tip of a burning cigarette, Fleck starts his tale of a driver stranded at the end of nowhere when his car goes over an embankment. Fleck then introduces almost every trope known to horror films. The driver ends up at the nearest house, a combination veterinarian’s office and taxidermy business, where a very spooky female proprietor tells him that there is no landline in her house – and that he must spend the night in this creepy place to await her brother’s return with his car in the morning.
Sandwiched between the elements in his scary story are videoed bits by a fast-talking academic who adds some theories by a French philosopher and the cruel and possibly incestuous abuse of the lady of the house. But overall, this is John Fleck’s imagination, and he lets it run rampant. There are more stars in Fleck’s firmament. These include designers Heather Fipps (video), Bosco Flanagan (lighting), Christine Papalexis (puppets), and Christina Wright (costumes). Their contributions give breadth and depth to Fleck’s solo lead. If you are a loyal Fleck fan, BACKTOP HIGHWAY will enchant and amuse you as he weaves his multi-media adventure. If you are an aficionado of experimental theater and theater of the absurd and even ridiculous, then you will enjoy this piece and find it well worth spending an evening with Fleck.
BLACKTOP HIGH runs through December 15, 2018, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025. Tickets are $30 (seniors, $25; under 30, $22; students, $17; SAG/Aftra/AEA, $20). For information and reservations, call 310-477-2055 ext. 2 or go online.