Tim Crouch's England is a two-person performance art piece set inside the Elizabeth Leach gallery. At the door, we are instructed to "go in, look at the art... it's part of the show." So we mill around for a while, looking at Sean Healy's installation, until a man and a woman begin talking: Crouch and fellow performer Hannah Ringham. They brightly introduce us to the gallery, explaining the history of the space, and they begin to tell us about themselves: It becomes clear that they're the same character; they live in England, with their art dealer boyfriend, in an apartment filled with expensive artwork. Their brightness soon takes on a brittle edge as we learn that the character is very sick, and alone, save for the boyfriend, who travels often, telling people what art to buy ("he says that good art is art that sells") and making loads of money in the process.The audience stands as the performers move around the space--many of us, myself included, sat down after a while, which I suppose speaks to the physical limits of our attention span when it comes to standing in a gallery looking at art.
After a while the audience is guided into a side room to sit for the rest of the performance, which is more traditionally theatrical. A narrative emerges: The character (I don't believe gender is ever established) has received a heart transplant, and goes to thank the widow of the man whose heart now beats inside the character's own chest. They speak through a translator. The character's belief in the significance of his/her own survival comes to seem as arbitrary and subjective as the dollar value assigned to a piece of art. (Calling something subjective and arbitrary, of course, in no way diminishes its value to the individual in question.)
Performance art inside an art gallery, reflecting on the value of art, on the value of human life. It's an extremely well-structured show, from the initial discomfort of standing in an art gallery at eye level with two actors, waiting for them to perform for you--I've never before felt the strangeness of that expectation so keenly--to the eventual unfolding of the show's central metaphor. And if England's ending segment feels too pat, too plotty, compared to the more ambiguous musings of the first half, it's worth keeping in mind that, by moving the audience into a theater space to watch it, the performance itself acknowledges the artificiality of the device. And it's also worth noting that, as pretentious as that last sentence sounded, the show is funny, engaging, and raises questions about the ways we value art and life that will resonate with everyone.