REVIEW: Isabella Rossellini’s Green Porno: Live on Stage

What was the production the Italian American actress Isabella Rossellini performed at BAM this past week anyways? Was it a science presentation, a one woman show, a screening of her short films, standup comedy, an autobiography, an “in person” communion with celebrity or was it all that at once in one simple piece? To answer this presents a challenge. When Rossellini took the stage, one could sense her celebrity and glamour taking over the room. While she was dressed plainly, just in a simple dress and pearls, she still had that draw, that aura. She walked out clutching flowers, one beautiful, one slightly plain. She told those in the audience for this seemingly polite gathering: “ladies and gentlemen, we’re here to talk about sex.” She explained that the flowers were an example of sexuality in nature, pollinated to reproduce. She threw aside the plain flowers explaining that they had not the sexual appeal of the more lovely flowers. Yet was she there to talk about sex at all?

As she said early in the show, the production was not pornographic though still “obscene.” Unlike one might have expected, Rossellini did not perform her videos originally made for the Sundance Channel “live” and dress in costume (except for one brief, wonderful exception when she became a hamster) but rather presented them as a dramatic monologue, a peculiar one woman show of a lecture. Rossellini presented her research on the different mating habits of animals, ranging from ducks to salmon to elephants. Her interest seemed ultimately in the individuality of the animals, the wide range of species, the ways that they change and evolve. The show was ultimately about something else entirely, biodiversity. The strange thing about artwork related to sex is how much it can be said to represent  larger human experience and issues.

This was clearly understood by Rossellini as well as her collaborator on the script for the production, Jean-Claude Carrière, the screenwriter for many of Bunuel’s films about other complex sexualities such as The Obscure Object Of Desire. The fascinating eleme14-green-pornont of viewing the different processes of animal reproduction from Rossellini’s deeply human and performative interpretation is the way it makes the viewer consider his or her own sexuality and place in the world. The beauty and humanity in looking at the different mating habits explored by Rossellini comes in seeing every human desire realized in some animal process: Rossellini described her father’s desire to become pregnant, impossible in human men, realized in several animals; Rossellini professed her own relation to salmon, who are able to protect themselves against unwanted mates through creating a labyrinth.

The argument made passionately by Rossellini in the production is a simple one: there is no deep separation between the beauty of nature and the beauty of humanity: that is to say the diversity and specificity of creatures. To go back to my earlier question, I would look at the quote from Carrière in the notes for the production “…biology is the greatest show on earth.” The most enjoyable part of the production for me was the chance to see science as cinema (Rossellini’s shorts) and theater. Whatever creature this production was is one ever changing, impossible to classify. At the end of the play, Rossellini went back to the bible to consider Noah’s taking of two of each creature, one male, one female. As she described, it is not quite that simple: some animals only have one gender and reproduce asexually, some creatures shift gender over time. In this way, perhaps it is best not to classify the production but to accept the combination of so many different elements to birth a unique creature.

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