By Ilaria Cutolo

Aristotle Thinks Again, part of the Great Jones Repertory Humanismo: Ancient Futures Series is directed and choreographed by Dan Safer (Witness Relocation) with original text by playwright Chuck Mee. It is playing now through February 4 at La Mama.

Known for their experimental work mixing Greek tragedies with hyper-modern elements, this work by Great Jones Rep surely delivers, achieving a level of surreal dystopia combined with a bizarre, absurd, and sometimes maddening discourse between performer and audience. It had me and my date, at moments, glancing at each other with inquisitive looks and raised eyebrows.

The show opens with performer Valois Mickens, commanding the stage with elegance, charm, and wit as she reads scenes from various Greek Tragedies, “Act 1, Scene 2…Persephone….” (text by Chuck Mee) reemerging throughout the performance with nonchalant announcements presenting the past as if foretelling our future. With Greek tragedies and myths being over-the-top violent, gruesome, and at best sometimes awful displays of what humanity is capable of, it parallels and juxtaposes the performances as they dance with agony, anger, extreme apathy, humor, love, and vulnerability, in effect, reflecting the whole gamut of the human condition.

This production was raucous, loud, and raw in both subject matter and performance. The question: “What is going on here” was top of my mind while being equally immersed in the tragic absurdity and dynamic power of the performance, uncomfortable yet still palatable. The performers, magnetic and bold had me glued to my seat while wanting very much to run away. In one scene, four dancers don large, grotesque masks of what appear to be old, white, men clad in business suits representing toxic masculinity at the extreme, dancing and flailing disturbingly to hard-core techno beats all while a formal and eloquent male voice asks from above questions regarding the violent role of man, the ultimate role of man, the role of women, why it’s hard to be a woman, why it’s hard to be a man, because, well, men? You know, your everyday questions. All sarcasm aside, spot on, and grappling with our current predicaments, the play feels like director Safer’s brain (with the help of fellow co-choreographers) was pried wide open and allowed to spill haphazardly and on fire onto that stage.

Strewn throughout, there are moments of peace and gentility. Near the end, a hyper and earnest Safer appears with the mic in hand to ask the performers, all seated in panel-like fashion, about the three things they would take to the “other side” and one thing they would leave behind. He interrogates a few front-row audience members as well.  One brave audience-goer replied that they would like to leave behind interrogating the audience and a few said they would take their children with them. All good answers.

The performers are impressive, and the dancing and acting are powerful and refreshing, as per a La Mama performance, not to ever be accused of trite or safe. A big nod to performer John Maria Gutierrez, giving us an energetically explosive, no-holds-barred, brutally masochistic, and impassioned performance. I had phantom pains in my body just watching him. Oh, and inflatable, light-up, sheep-chicken things grace the stage in the final performance. If you like loud, in-your-face, experimental, and weird which also makes you think, then this is definitely for you.

Aristotle Thinks Again is performing now at La Mama from January 25 through February 11, 2024, Thursday – Saturday at 8 PM, Monday, Jan 29 at 8 PM, and Sunday at 4 PM at The Downstairs, 66 East 4th Street, basement level, New York, NY 10003. Tickets: Adults: $30, Students/Seniors: $25, First 10 tickets are $10 (limit 2 per person). Approximately 60 minutes. with no intermission. This performance is recommended for ages 18+ due to adult content.

Cast: Performed, co-created, and co-choreographed by maura nguyen donohue, John Maria Gutierrez, Valois Mickens, Kim Savarino, and Guest Artist Marcus McGregor; Directed/choreographed by Dan Safer, Text by Chuck Mee, Original Music by Julia Kent, Lights by Jay Ryan, Set by Sara Brown, Costumes by Alicia Austin, Sound Design by Attilio Rigotti.