I had no idea what to expect going into Brian Feldman’s “Dishwasher 2: I Pay You.” Was this going to be some sort of performance art piece? A no-holds-barred theatrical experiment? An ingenious way of getting someone to do your dishes for the day? What I discovered was a surprising, semi self-reflective and completely avant garde experience that manages to merge both art and a social conscientiousness that prompts some very interesting perspectives.
…a surprising, semi self-reflective and completely avant garde experience that manages to merge both art and a social conscientiousness that prompts some very interesting perspectives.
Right away, starting with the receipt of my ticket, I was intrigued. You get the requisite when/where/what information along with some photos and a few quasi-cryptic directions and advisories attached to an email—such that call up an almost escape room/scavenger hunt kind of vibe. As the performance announcement poses, “Think you got what it takes?” Who are the brave souls out there willing to immerse themselves in this innovative and somewhat mysterious twist on contemporary theatre?
Traveling to Brian’s apartment, I was admittedly a bit nervous. However, his directions were quite clear and proved easy to follow. Once inside his apartment (a.k.a. “The Kitchen”—an ironic name given that there is no kitchen), I was struck by how small his space actually was. Brian immediately put me at ease and offered some backstory on how he came to be residing in this apartment that the building inspector officially deemed “unsuitable for living” precisely because there is no kitchen. There is more to that story and another aspect of mystery. What will ultimately happen in the saga of Brian and this tiny apartment that he’s inhabited for nearly seven years?
By virtue of layout and the eclectic décor that tells quite the in-depth tale of the theatre maker’s life and career, the space feels quite homey and comfortable. There is plenty to look at, read, and ponder. I honestly could’ve spent the entire hour just scanning the walls, taking it all in. Soon enough though, it was on to the main event, or Act 1, as Brian dubbed it: the dishwashing. Yes, you literally wash his dishes in the bathroom, given the whole missing kitchen thing.
Hanging out on the window ledge was a moderate-size stack of dirty dishes. After disinfecting the sink, selecting my rubber gloves (he has an array of sizes), and choosing the dishwashing music du jour, I got started. The experience, I must say, had an almost Zen-like quality to it. I suppose though it really all depends on how you approach it. There was something about trying to maneuver some of the larger pieces of dishware in the diminutive bathroom sink and then the even greater challenge of stacking the washed pieces in the dish drainer (which was balancing on the toilet) that helps move your mind from a potentially frazzled place of “what do I have to do, what deadlines do I have to meet, what bills need to get paid” to a quieter place of mindfulness and meditation. Or maybe that was just me. Brian seemed genuinely impressed by my dishwashing speed and ability to Jenga the pot-and-pan puzzle together, to which I replied, “I raised two kids and teenage boys tend to create a lot of dirty dishes.”
Once the last pot was precariously balanced atop the other now-washed dishes, it was time for an intermission. We chatted. I learned about some of Brian’s other projects—all truly fascinating, leaving me to wonder about the artistic mind at work here. Then came Act 2: the monologue. I’d succeeded in washing dishes, now the question was, could I act? How’s that saying go, those who can’t act, write or something along those lines. We’ll leave it at that. Upon completing this second act, I was given a few very clever mementos to remind me of the experience. Then, that was it. Performance over. The underlying messages/themes are there for your interpretation.
Unlike writing my reflections on a traditional play or performance, I’ve found it a bit more difficult to review this piece. You are left with some thoughts provoked that perhaps weren’t there before. You think about how people live; why they choose to live in the spaces that they do; and you are also left to consider the question of income. Especially in a city like D.C. How much you make can certainly be an all-consuming source of anxiety for a lot of people.
Brian Feldman’s work spans some pretty eye-opening territory. From “The Skill Crane Kid” where he remained inside of an arcade game for 16 hours to “Leap Year Day” where he leaped off of a ladder 366 over a twenty-four hour period, he isn’t afraid to blur lines and question status quo standards of what art and performativity are. While “Dishwasher 2” seems perhaps a little more low-key than his other work, it is no less a catalyst for inspiring some unique observations about art, life, and the places we inhabit.
Running Time: Approximately one hour including one 10-minute intermission.
“Dishwasher 2: I Pay You” runs through October 11, 2023 at The Kitchen (Brian Feldman’s Studio Apartment) in Cleveland Park, D.C. For more information, go online. The run is completely sold out.