The Precipice, Thirteenth Tribe, at Chopin Theatre. In their Chicago debut the bright-eyed, squeaky-clean, endlessly enthusiastic Thirteenth Tribe seem hell-bent on claiming their fair share of postindustrial, premillennial despair. Dressed in black, skulking ominously against a backdrop of spray-mounted urban detritus, borrowing liberally from Beckett, Eliot, and bad 70s college experimentalism, they lament their way through a fractious evening of “dislocation, danger, and transformation.” Six characters with names like Cracked, Witness, and Damage serve up satire, poetry, mask work, and dance, identifying the imminent collapse of Western civilization in sex clubs, tabloid news, big business, faceless bureaucracies, the World Wide Web, hurricanes, oil spills, genocide, and, of all things, quilting bees. Apparently the avant-garde has sold its soul to the Christian Coalition and the Montana Freemen.
But the real problem with The Precipice, aside from its humorless ham-handedness, is its relentless insincerity. Rather than develop real inner lives, the performers manufacture ersatz angst–the tortured physicality, the forlorn stares, the sonorous voices trailing off. Despite earnest facades, they never mean what they say; they merely act as if they do. And young artists’ inability to know the difference is a genuine source of despair.