Photo of Athena Reich

Lady Gaga: #ARTBIRTH

NOW Magazine | Editor: Glenn Sumi
Published: August 2016

Love her or hate her, Lady Gaga’s nasal growl, stomping choreography and theatrical flair have earned her both accolades and eye rolls the world over. Lady Gaga: #ARTBIRTH garners a similarly mixed response.

#ARTBIRTH banks on star and co-writer Athena Reich‘s impressive impersonation of the pop icon with a layered take that fluctuates between parody and pastiche. In this pseudo-concert, Reich delivers a pregnant Gaga who decides to stage the ultimate piece of performance art: the onstage birth of a baby co-created through crowd-sourced sperm.

Its an apt way to lampoon a pop star who will seemingly do anything to hold our attention. In Reich and co-writer Jack Trinco‘s script, directed by Sara Schwartz Geller, Gaga milks every opportunity to turn her delivery into a mercilessly staged marketing stunt where no birthing by-product is wasted.

It’s also a vessel for Reich’s own experience as a single lesbian who decided to conceive on her own. Of course, unlike in #ARTBIRTH, pregnancy doesn’t always go according to plan. Reich finally conceived through an extended process of IVF and wrote the show to help deal with the personal struggles she experienced along the way.

So while #ARTBIRTH is a fantastic send-up of Mother Monster, it’s also a surrealist exploration of Reich’s own journey of motherhood, womanhood and the female body. And a critique of modern celebrity. And entertainment capitalism. With backup dancers, vaginal art and a giant inflatable pegasus.

But though heavy with ideas, #ARTBIRTH is awfully light on story. Beyond the milestones you’d expect from a pregnancy narrative, there’s little trajectory, and the show repeatedly returns to the same set of ideas. Most of the segments between musical numbers are too long and, while they’re often entertaining, they rarely shed any light on what the whole thing’s about.

Fortunately, much like Gaga, Reich outshines her material. Every time the show starts to shudder towards an empty tank, she injects it with enough glittery gasoline to eke out another mile. Reich is a showboat with a great set of pipes that bear an uncanny resemblance to Gaga’s own, and she’s got more than a few aces up her sleeve. Her version of “The Edge Of Glory” – rechristened here as “The Edge Of Labour” – has her climbing over every inch of an upright piano without missing a note.

The thing is, Reich knows it’s a bit of a mess. Towards the end, she shouts incredulously: “What the fuck did I create?”

Perhaps a future iteration of #ARTBIRTH could match the promise of its star. Until then, we’re all left expecting.