You could call Tim Crouch's new performance work England. Crouch himself does. But the one-word title masks a complex interplay of themes in the show launching this year's Off the Wall series at The Andy Warhol Museum.
Crouch, an acclaimed British performer, wrote England as a commission for Scotland's Traverse Theater; it premiered last year. The two-act, one-hour show is written for two actors in a gallery space. The first act, in fact, is structured as a guided tour of the gallery in question. In two shows at The Warhol, Sept. 19 and 20, Crouch and Hannah Ringham will begin Act I playing the same character (gender unspecified). The protagonist, whose boyfriend is an American art dealer, falls gravely ill. The boyfriend's rich father funds a heart transplant.
Act II switches venues, scenes and perspectives. From the Warhol gallery dominated by what Crouch calls the artist's "big pink 'Last Supper,'" both actors and audience relocate to the museum's theater. The play's action, meanwhile, moves to the developing nation where the transplanted heart was acquired -- under, as it becomes apparent, shady circumstances. And the perspective grows to include the wife of the "donor."
Fans of Off the Wall know Crouch, 43, from his January 2006 performance of My Arm. In that one-person show, Crouch portrays a man who at age 10 had raised one arm over his head and then never took it down (without the actor doing any such arm-lifting himself). All the show's other characters are embodied by small, inanimate objects contributed by the audience.
"I'm a storyteller," says Crouch, interviewed recently by phone from Portland, Ore., where he's just performed England. But that description is too modest by half for the spell-binding theatrical and thematic complexity of a show like My Arm. And England, which Crouch slightly rewrites to reflect the art in each new gallery venue, promises similar rewards.
"It's the most political piece I've written," says Crouch. The narrative implicitly questions the value of art -- and the value of human life; Western economic and cultural imperialism; and how the audience itself might be implicated in it all. "Like all of Crouch's shows, [England] burns with the desire to provoke as it explores not just the nature of theatre but the way we live now, in a world where commerce knows no borders," says The Guardian of London.
Indeed, among the show's purposes is to ironically interrogate its own title: to question the substance of "nationality." Just as immigration, for instance, has made England itself no longer "English," and America no longer the America some Americans thought they knew, so Crouch calls England "a pure act of transplantation." The show's been performed in Singapore as well as in the U.S. and the U.K. "Every time we play a country, 'England' is in that country," says Crouch. "Now England is in the United States of America."
Tim Crouch and Hannah Ringham perform England 8 p.m. Fri., Sept. 19, and Sat., Sept. 20. The Andy Warhol Museum, 117 Sandusky St., North Side. $20 ($10 students). 412-237-8300 or www.warhol.org