David Szlasa gives us a `HOT Lobotomy’

Spencer Evans (left) is the Mariachi and Erin Mei-Ling Stuart is Joey McGee in David Szlasa’s My HOT Lobotmy at CounterPULSE. Photos by Katrina Rodabaugh.


Last time out, theatrical innovator David Szlasa had a hit with a bomb.

He explored the creation of the atomic bomb in 2006’s Gadget. Now he’s attempting to discover the stupid things we’re doing as a society and postulating about how we’ll regret them in the future.

The show is My HOT Lobotomy, a Z Space Studio production created and directed by Szlasa with choreography by his frequent collaborator, Sara Shelton Mann, and with music chosen through an online contest. More on that in a minute.

For Szlasa (pronounced Sla-za), lobotomies are one of those things (not unlike the atomic bomb) that seemed like a good idea at the time but, with hindsight, turned out to be quite ludicrous.

“In the span of about 50 years, what seemed to be a serious solution to an issue of psychological distress seems ridiculous now,” Szlasa explains. “I started thinking about those kinds of things happening now that we’ll look back on as quite absurd, and I realized the notion of burning fossil fuels to move us around in our cars and planes will be looked on as equally as ridiculous as a lobotomy was. It may take more than 50 years, but future generations will look back on this strange time when we burned core elements of the earth to get us from here to there. There will be a much more beautiful solution in the future.”

In the show, which opens Friday, Oct. 17 at CounterPULSE and continues through Nov. 2, Szlasa has created a character named Joey McGee who, like many of us, wants to make a difference but doesn’t know quite what to do. We can go buy an energy-efficient light bulb at Home Depot, but it was shipped from China. The contradictory bits of information fighting for our attention can be overwhelming.

“For the character of Joey, the solution is a lobotomy,” Szlasa says. “He figures that’s the sexy way out. He hires a caretaker before he self-lobotomizes, and the caretaker is a songwriter. That’s where the music comes in.”

In what he describes as “meta-meta theater stuff,” Joey, a man, is played by a woman, Erin Mei-Ling Stuart. And Spencer Evans plays the Mariachi, a sort of traveling minstrel/troubadour, who sings about why Joey did what Joey did.

The 70-minute, one-act show, which features Joey’s choreographed exercise routines and Szlasa’s trademark video collages, also includes songs by Sean Hayes, Carrie Baum, Joshua Lowe and Cody James Bentley. Several months ago, Szlasa put out a request for songs for his show and promoted the contest on various Web sites (www.zspace.org, www.counterpulse.org) and on MySpace and other social networking sites.

Szlasa received more than 60 songs from artists around the country.

“Part of this was to find songs for the show and to do research,” Szlasa says. “We were vague about what we wanted: songs about global warming. The songs I was sent helped me get a better handle on what other creative thinkers are doing about the issue. We chose three songs and commissioned a song by Sean Hayes, a local songwriter. You can hear all the songs at www.myspace.com/myhotlobotomy.

Growing up in rural New York, Szlasa saw touring shows and thought theater meant Annie. When he headed to New York City to work in theater, he had every intention of getting into musical theater. But life had other plans for Szlasa, who spent 10 years in New York as a video, lighting and set designer for theater, dance and gallery installations.

The Oakland resident has been in the Bay Area for three years and says he likes being part of the community here.

“This is a great town to build an audience and develop technique,” he says. “In New York, it’s super competitive, space is at a premium and money is hard to come by. I’m fortunate to get to do the work I’m doing here, and hopefully what the work does – with the content and the form – is work on different levels technically and is satisfying for me and for the audience as it provides insight into things we deal with on a daily basis and gives us a different way to think about it.”

My HOT Lobotomy runs from Oct. 17 through Nov. 2 at CounterPULSE, 1310 Mission St., San Francisco. Tickets are $25. Call 800-838-3006 or visit www.brownpapertickets.org or www.zspace.org.

Here’s Szlasa doing a little lobotomy research: