TARGET AUDIENCE: The Code of the Western

Playwright-actor Jim Neu, whose latest opus of whimsy, Target Audience: The Code of the Western, recently opened, may be the most unfairly uncelebrated of downtown auteurs. Neu is as adept at twisting language and meaning as Mac Wellman, has been as artistically consistent as Richard Forman and was cleaving his texts to disorienting songs long before Richard Maxwell was old enough to drink.
-- Robert Simonson, Time Out New York, Sept 25-Oct 2, 2003

Listen up, buckaroos and buckarettes. With a cowboy running the world, local sheriffs can't be the only ones worrying about the rules of the West. Playwright-performer Jim Neu is an expert on frontier culture and shares his wisdom in Target Audience: The Code of the Western. The author presents himself as Dr. James Thorne, guest lecturer at the Saddleholster Film Festival, and addresses an audience of western-movie fans on the genre's evolution. He's backed up by Ashley Nevada, his guitar-strumming research assistant (Deborah Auer). Behind them footage rolls of B-movie scenes starring Lash LaRue, John Wayne, and a galloping Ronald Reagan. A slide show further illustrates his lecture.

Professor Thorne's thesis gets as expansive as his silver belt buckle: "First they settled the West, then they settled the western." Producers and writers arrived to claim the frontier not long after the settlers did, inventing irresistible historical icons and legends for America with ever loosening ties to historical fact. The result: A nation that absorbs its history through B movies now happily inhabits "islands of enriched reality." "A lot of what we went through never actually happened," he observes, but "it's hard to deny the evidence of your senses."
-- “There’s a New Sheriff in Town—and He Brought a Slide Show” by Tom Sellar, The Village Voice, Sept 24-30, 2003


With his soft-spoken presence, a Johnny Cash inspired black cowboy outfit, Jim Neu looks and sounds more like a benevolent (albeit, for New York, eccentric) uncle than someone who has come to discuss the serious philosophical topic of situology. On the stage of La MaMa’s The Club theater, backed up by black and white video footage (expertly curated and edited by Charles Dennis) of B-movie westerns and the quiet, evocative country western singing of Deborah Auer, Neu comes to do just this in Target Audience: The Code of the Western. More than a lecture, the performer’s newest piece serves as a catalyst for contemplation of situology in the world today. . . .

From a historical perspective, Neu’s creation is fascinating to hear. His presence and delivery is so sure that one accepts the facts he presents and conclusions that he draws as faits accompli. What’s most intriguing about this presentation, which Keith McDermott has staged with quiet simplicity, is the range of thought that it provokes. As Neu discusses how fiction can be packaged into fact, one can’t help but think about the existence or lack thereof of "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq. Is our war an example of situology at work? Beyond this, Neu’s piece raises issues about "reality" programming on television and "fictional" television such as "Law and Order," where the show’s tag line is "Ripped from the headlines."

Since seeing the piece, which runs sadly through Sunday only, I have found myself returning to the concept repeatedly and even watching the news is a slightly different (even more jaded and cynical) way. For a theater piece that lasts only an hour, this impact is extraordinary.
-- “The Western Examined for Contemporary Relevance” by Andy Propst, American Theater Web, 9/26/2003



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