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One performer's fierce vision of society; FunHouse. Written, directed, and performed by Eric Bogosian.

By David Sterritt / July 13, 1983



New York

Eric Bogosian is a walking, running, strutting, talking, singing, chanting embodiment of the growing new theatrical form called ''performance art.'' Like a stand-up comedian, he works alone, performing his own material on a nearly bare stage. But his emotion-filled acts are miles away from the throwaway stuff of TV and nightclub entertainment. What distinguishes Bogosian is his fierce vision of a society gone wrong, his determination to explore the problem to its murkiest depths, and the sense of ethical concern that blazes through his vignettes.

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In all these matters, his new ''FunHouse'' picks up from the earlier ''Men Inside'' and ''Voices of America,'' which have also been presented at the Public Theater - and can be heard, somewhat shortened, on a new disk (Neutral-10) recorded live in London by Manhattan-based Neutral Records.

Once again Bogosian creates a slew of characters in less than an hour, leaping artfully from one impersonation to another. Again they are a diverse crew, linked mostly by the symptoms they carry of social and personal ills that cry for correction. Again some of their language is rough and vulgar, but never carelessly so: Unlike more brash performers, Bogosian uses four-letter outbursts as signs of his own contempt for deplorable attitudes and mindsets.

Not surprisingly, the title ''FunHouse'' turns out to be ironic. Most of its denizens would not be fun to meet and don't have much fun themselves. Still, many are quite funny in a bitter kind of way - the manic writer with an appalling idea for a TV sitcom, for example, or the prancing rock-and-roller Bogosian mimes to perfection.

Others are precariously close to their real-life counterparts, such as the money-minded evangelist who says a monthly donation to him is all that's needed for a clear conscience. A few are horrifying, such as the ''interrogation'' teacher who trades blandly in torture. And some, perhaps the most biting of all, are so flatly realistic you might not get the point until it sneaks up with a shock - the doctor, for example, who speaks in the cold tones of a technician who's lost all touch with the human levels of his work.

Despite the outrageous humor that marks many of his vignettes, Bogosian tends to dwell on the dark side of experience, whether dealing with bizarre personalities or with ordinary people in their homes and offices. Some spectators have found him daunting in his relentless push to root out hidden miseries and sound new warning bells in every scene. But the moral dimensions of his vision remain clear, even when his characters become too creepy for comfort. Much like Alice in Wonderland, whom he quotes on the ''FunHouse'' program, Bogosian finds his foes are really ''nothing but a pack of cards'' in the long view. What remains, after they've been scattered, are the lessons we've learned by examining them.

''FunHouse,'' which winds up its Public Theater run this weekend, will be presented later this summer at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. Future projects for Bogosian include a collaboration with the innovative composer Glenn Branca, to premiere at the Provincetown Playhouse in Manhattan this fall, and a cinematic debut in a film to be directed by artist Robert Longo.