Rudi Goblen's PET at the Light Box Explores Heartbreak

For Michael Yawney, director of the one-man show PET at Miami Light Box at Goldman Warehouse this weekend, the most difficult question to answer is the most elemental: What is the show?

"I think of it as a big cornucopia of stuff," Yawney says. "There's dance, there's music, it's funny, it's sad, it's scary. It is a piece that is written yet still responds to the audience that is seeing it at that performance. And it does make it hard to describe, because it truly is a hybrid work."

That doesn't mean the show is ill-defined, though.

"I often think that when people say a work is a hybrid, it's a way of saying they haven't made up their mind about what it is," he says. "But in this case, I think it's the opposite. I think that [writer-performer] Rudi [Goblen] has made such strong decisions about so much of what's in the piece that it really includes a lot. Is it a dance piece? Yes? Is it a play? Yes. Is it interactive? Yes. Is it noninteractive? Yes. Is there food? Yes. Anything people describe it as, it kind of can be."

These inherent contradictions and shape-shifting formulations are precisely what has helped PET endure, from its 2013 commissioned premiere at the Light Box through three years of additions, deletions, and tweaks at venues throughout the county. Goblen, a b-boy who cofounded the Miami dance crew Flipside Kings in 1994 and has pounded pavement as a rapper, MC, and street performer, originally envisioned PET as a dance-theater exploration of sex addiction. ("PET" is an acronym, but Rudi won't reveal what it stands for because it would be a spoiler. It's revealed at the end of the show.)

When interviewing subjects for research, he found that most of them wanted to steer the conversation toward love, relationships, and broken hearts. Goblen addressed their thoughts and feelings, along with some of his own self-reflections, into this 74-minute piece set in a support group for "serial monogamists" — love addicts who follow their heart too much, even when it leads to an abyss.

"I realized that sometimes people don't give themselves the time to heal or mourn or look back at the relationship that just finished and realize why it ended, what worked, what didn't work, what they learned about themselves or the other person," he says. "Some people just jump into a new relationship right away and bring all this baggage that's not dealt with or still swimming around somewhere in there."

PET explores the conditions and mindset of the serial monogamist through every means at its creator's disposal: dance, music, monologues, wordplay, a surreal playlet involving animal masks and a paper bag. One critic called it "comically insane"; another compared Goblen to Charlie Chaplin. Like all of Goblen's solo shows, PET is produced in the round, integrating the audience as his unofficial ensemble.

"The whole idea of people coming to see me perform for them has always been a little conflictive for me," he says. "I try to make it about us, and we're all here together. And because of that, I see myself as the curator of the atmosphere. If I can successfully set the mood and make the audience feel as comfortable as they would in their own homes, then the quicker they can let their guard down and trust me to come on the journey with them. From the beginning, I'm very welcoming — or eerie in a welcoming sort of way."

The show's tone is as mercurial as its format. Audiences can be laughing one minute and feel uncomfortable the next, as if they are voyeurs to somebody's diary. "It really is all calibration," Yawney says. "With Rudi, people think he's making it up. I don't think they realize how conscious an artist he is and how carefully everything is planned and executed. His skill is such that the switches seem like they're just happening for the first time with that audience. But that's exactly what we want. It should be a constantly evolving thing for the audience, where they don't know what's coming next and they don't know what their emotional response is going to be."

For Goblen, the show is all about feeling out the audience and responding.

"Intense watching is really what a director does," Yawney adds. "And this piece, because it's so much about how the audience reacts and responds to him and how he responds to their reactions, I feel like I'm standing on a tightrope whenever I watch the piece."

Because the audience plays such a central role in the show's prismatic structure, every performance is different. PET is interactive on more than one level: Some audience volunteers will join him onstage, but the fundamental interactivity lies more in story comprehension than direct involvement, with attendees actively engaged in putting the pieces together.

"The audience is like a detective, figuring out what happened and what's the relationship between certain things they say at the beginning and things they say later," Yawney explains. "Our big effort has been to give the audience more to work with, to give them more clues so they can put the story together better. It's the audience that writes the story, and we want to give them the tools to write the story with."

For Goblen, PET's return to its place of conception — the Light Box — will offer even audiences that attended the 2013 premiere a production imbued with the kind of wisdom that comes only from the passing of time.

"We're so excited to bring it back to this space," Goblen says. "We created it in this space. I like to call it my love letter to the Light Box. Throughout the three years, we've also been able to play around with some of the monologues, change some of the text. The show is much more sophisticated. In the three years, it's been to college. It's a young adult now."

Thursday, April 7, through Saturday, April 9, at the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, 404 NW 26th St., Miami; 305-576-4350; miamilightproject.com. Tickets cost $16.74 to $27.24.

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