It was a Friday, and things were not going so well. I was feeling sad, as we all do sometimes. In an attempt to salvage the evening, I agreed to meet a friend at a ping-pong hall on East 23rd Street, a venue I had not previously heard of but whose owner was rumored to be Susan Sarandon. I liked the soundtrack to Stepmom, and I love my friend, so it seemed like a no-brainer.
In a large basement, backlit blue, small white balls careened haphazardly and men in partially unbuttoned and seasonally inappropriate cotton shirts made sex eyes at outer-borough dates over flaccid string nets. It felt like the worst parts of summer camp, rolled together and injected with a steroidal shot of heteronormativity. I walked in exhausted and sober, wearing a turtleneck and overstuffed backpack. (Nothing can make one feel more chaste, more like a Nice Jewish Girl From Brooklyn, than a cable-knit wool turtleneck.) The bar offered an overpriced beverage called The Susan — a swirl of coffee, Kahlua and other ingredients too benign to commit to memory — that masqueraded as a cocktail. I ordered a Brooklyn IPA, which arrived in a Bavarian weizen glass. I am only reporting here.
I drank quickly and played an apologetic, limp game before reemerging into the Flatiron evening to disappear.
Near the opening of the subway, I passed a young man wearing a wool cap. We broke the rule of passing strangers and made eye contact, but continued along our separate paths. As I stood at a crosswalk, waiting for the light, he pulled a 180 and came up behind me to tap my shoulder.
“Hey,” he said, and I recoiled. “What are you doing for the next two hours?”
It was 10:00 at night. I was going home with my work laptop; for the next two hours I planned to drink Earl Gray and educate myself in affiliate marketing strategies.
“Why?” I said, shifting my weight. I tried to look tough and cool, like someone you don’t want to mug.
“Do you like interactive theater?” he asked.
“Oh,” I said. “Jesus, no.” Immediately, I felt sorry. I wondered if he was taking a survey. Having spent one miserable summer in Times Square with a clipboard, trying to register people to vote, I can say with confidence that public engagement is a tough gig. I tried to fix it. “That depends. What kind?”
“It’s sort of like dance,” he said. “I have two tickets, but my friend bailed. Do you want to come? It’s right across the street.” Interactive dance, I thought, and in a public place! This was not a new nightmare.
“Ah,” I said. “Thank you so much for the invitation.” The reality was, I couldn’t think of a good reason to say no. “Maybe,” I said, and when the light turned green I followed him.
He led us to a small theater on East 15th Street. I peered inside. It was packed, full of kindly looking tourist types, a couple free-floating children. My new friend handed me a ticket and ushered me in. I tried to suppress surprise when the scanner confirmed that the tickets were real.
We followed the crowd into a large, dark room. Everyone was standing, mostly in couples. I looked at the ticket. The show was Fuerzabruta. I knew about this Fuerzabruta! Its actors graced the sides of public buses. The music video for Usher’s “Scream” was filmed here. A voice over the loudspeaker told us to take photographs of the show and post them to Facebook.
“I delete my Facebook account every day,” I said lamely. My new friend ignored this comment. I noticed that he was very handsome.
“Do you like to read?” he asked. “I spent the day in Housing Works. I read Fahrenheit 451 and The Pearl. I haven’t slept for 48 hours.” Then the lights went down and fans started to blow. There was music. I wondered if he was an angel.
A lot of things happen in Fuerzabruta. Here are some of them: Two dancers wearing gauzy nightgowns are suspended at a 90-degree angle, where they chase one another across the room’s tinfoil-shrouded perimeter. A Mylar pool is lowered from the ceiling, and women in underwear dive and glide and writhe in the water. They are ridiculously elegant and strong; male audience members with beer-mouth put their hands up to the Mylar and poke them. There is a dance party. There is a trapeze trio. Maybe it’s supposed to be a threesome? There is techno music and, of course, foghorns.
It is the sort of experience that one might compare to dropping acid, just because it is overstimulating and colorful and loud and unlike anything else, really, that you encounter in everyday life; in fact, a man standing near me made this very observation, although he did not seem the type to willingly ingest hallucinogens. I have never taken acid either, but I doubt the experience is much like watching Fuerzabruta — if only because the latter is so very specific, so literal, that to create it is an act of precision.
“I think this is a metaphor for the afterlife,” my new friend whispered, watching an actor run through a styrofoam wall hoisted above a long treadmill.
“Mmm,” I said.
Fuerzabruta is a spectacle; is is pure pleasure, distilled. It feels like a pop song, slides down easy. It’s cheesy like a pop song, too. And much like a pop song, it is probably incredibly hard to execute. To achieve that saturation point of unadulterated indulgence, to provide such unmistakable entertainment, cannot be anything but a huge undertaking. Fuerzabruta is unapologetically all about the dazzle — and it dazzles and dazzles. There’s a lot about the show that is unnerving, objectionable, but in my experience there is only one appropriate approach to this sort of thing, and that is to surrender.
We opened our eyes and stood in the center. We suspended our cynicism; we opened the door to spectacle and invited it in.
Outside the theater, New York was New York: noisy, bright, angry, odd-smelling. My new friend walked me to the subway. He told me he was twenty years old, so we talked about beauty and art and language. There was glitter on our coats, along with pieces of paper and styrofoam. We batted around the idea of having a drink, but I was very tired and he was very underage. We did not exchange personal information, which felt right. Some experiences are ephemeral by nature, as they should be; we parted ways without so much as a handshake. On the train home, I shook all of the glitter down.