Penny Arcade does not want you to think her nostalgic, because she is not nostalgic for the bad times across the last five decades. Instead she wants you to know she longs for the better times, she longs for a world long ago that has not been gentrified and dominated by the media and by technology. Born Susana Ventura into an immigrant Italian family in America, she has had quite the resume and quite the adventure so far, being noted as one of a group of artists who helped create performance art as we know it.
Penny is a force of nature, a big and boisterous life coach who refuses to give up her youth after decades of wasting it, she claims. An intelligent tour de force of a performer, her show unfortunately just isn’t funny. This is a seriously great fringe festival show that takes the audience on a sociology and history lesson, but it isn’t comedy and unfortunately we spend more time laughing at her self deprecating humour, or scoffing and agreeing with her, but we’re not full on laughing.
She proclaims that she is in the control group outside of this progressive technological experiment, and that everyone born after the 1980s will never know the world she lived in, never know a life not drowning in subversive main stream media and advertising.
While she’s not wrong, she would do well to ease up on the attack on Generation Y– although, this sensitivity and “complaint” I am making is exactly what she warned of, that our generation is too sensitive, we are victims, we are spineless and too eager to grow up and waste our youth. Maybe parts of this are right, and parts are slightly offensive broad generalization, but, as part of this younger generation in a crowd of people more my parents age, I did feel a little isolated from the performance during this part. Then again, she states mid-show that she does not care if us journalists agree with her, she is expressing herself and her opinion and her individuality. It’s worth noting the over 30s were LOVING the entire show, but those 40-50s loved it as they related to the content growing up, and about their children.
Her razor sharp satire is not lost on the audience but sometimes falls flat, but the crowd certainly becomes more and more worked up as the show goes on. While her soundscape that crosses four decades of pop culture is mixed live, it could use a little more rehearsal and better transitions, as her unending energy races along and snowballs, often leaving her hanging on a little too long to deliver her line. While these pauses aren’t too awkward, the audience who came to laugh and enjoy a comedy festival show may be a little disappointed. The lighting that accompanies her soundscape mixing is well done within the Speigeltent’s parameters but is plagued by the same little delays the music is.
I will note that her discussion on trigger warnings as political correctness rubbed me the wrong way as she goes beyond the line of funny and drifts well into insensitive.
Regardless, this is an electric journey into New York’s cultural history and the gentrification of the world around us, which makes for an entertaining evening. She taps into our rift of Melbourne versus other Australian cities, and her larger than life personality and aggressive humour is like my feisty grandmother incarnate. Penny is an artist trying to put some colour back into a world she sees turning grey, and sees the potential in all of her audience members, for their ability to be individual and creators, to navigate us out of this doomsday fantasy.