Penny Arcade is not nostalgic. The performance art veteran’s latest show might look to the past—the radicalism of the 1960s and '70s—but it’s not through rose-tinted specs. Nostalgia is romantic; longing, she argues, is much more powerful.
Longing Lasts Longer rails against an altered urban landscape, where a cleaned-up New York has gone from the Big Apple to the Big Cupcake. But it’s not just the gentrification of our streets that we have to worry about now, says Arcade; it’s the gentrification of the mind. Capitalism has created a world of political apathy and meaningless choice, a place where “mediocrity is the new black”.
Arcade is full of such sharp one-liners, aphorisms that pithily combine wit and insight. Strung together, they form an impassioned tirade against the advance of consumerism, brilliantly underscored by long-time collaborator Steve Zehentner’s live-mixed soundtrack. It’s wide-ranging territory, taking in everything from the worship of youth to cultural amnesia.
Arcade’s passion on these topics is clear and contagious. The show, though, always seems on the cusp of breaking free into something more theatrical, more anarchic, without ever quite taking that leap. The rhetoric is forceful, but the performance feels oddly reined in.
And without that theatricality, Arcade’s complaints—urgent and important though they might be—run the risk of descending into a pure rant. Charismatic and persuasive company as Arcade is, Longing Lasts Longer is more opinion piece than performance, all content at the expense of form.