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High and Lowbrow With Under the Radar How the fest celebrates everything from Beckett to Van Damme

BY ERIC GRODE

Every January, just as a sizable number of Broadway theatres find themselves without inhabitants, off-Off Broadway basks in an explosion of creative energy. From January 5-16, for instance, The Public Theater will once again host Under the Radar , a festival of cutting-edge performance with performances at the Public and six other spaces.

One of those sites, Dixon Place, will host the rather unclassifiable Your Brother. Remember? Creator-performer Zachary Oberzan, a veteran of the genre-mashing company Nature Theater of Oklahoma, was last seen recounting his childhood obsession with the movie First Blood in the 2009 piece Rambo Solo That show ended with the promise of a one-man, no-budget film adaptation of First Blood shot entirely in Oberzan’s 220-square-foot Manhattan apartment---a promise that was realized earlier this year when Flooding With Love for the Kid opened in a handful of movie theaters.

"I like the fact that I made what was to me a Hollywood film in my own apartment and played what were to me Hollywood parts," Oberzan says.

As it happens, Oberzan was also making movies 20 years ago, when he was a teenager: homages to flicks like Jean-Claude Van Damme's <i>Kickboxer</i> and the infamous Faces of Death compilations. His frequent collaborator was his older brother Gator, and Your Brother. Remember?chronicles Oberzan’s attempts to return to his Maine hometown and create shot-for-shot remakes with Gator, who has struggled with drug addiction and with whom Zachary has long been estranged.

Oberzan makes no apologies for gravitating toward schlocky source material. "This piece is about families and the passing of time and the loss of innocence [and] I use Kickboxer and Faces of Death to make sense of these themes," he says. "They’re not arbitrary. This was the vocabulary we had, and it was one of the few bits of common ground I shared with my brother.

"Kickboxer is just as legitimate an entity as Remembrance of Things Past if it has resonance to you and results in a genuine emotional response," he continues. "I could sit down and watch Kickboxer over and over again, and project onto it so many things in a way that I couldn’t do with middlebrow things."

But the strength of Your Brother. Remember? ultimately has little to do with the source material and everything to do with Oberzan’s collaborator. He notes, "What began as a fairly academic exercise in videography became about re-establishing---it’s probably more accurate to say establishing for the first time---a relationship with my brother."

 For those who prefer their cultural referents a bit loftier, Under the Radar has a number of other options. Belarus Free Theater’s Being Harold Pinter melds excerpts from the playwright and interviews with Belarussian political prisoners. JoAnne Akalaitis returns to the Public, where she briefly served as artistic director, with Jump, a music-theater treatment of stage icon Sarah Bernhardt. And while Barry McGovern may not have reached Bernhardtian levels of acclaim, his reputation as an interpreter of Beckett is unmatched; the Gate Theatre of Ireland presents McGovern in a new adaption of the early Beckett novel Watt . Taylor Mac’s five-act The Lily’s Revenge was the talk of the off-Off-Broadway scene in 2009; here he teams up with the similarly experimental Talking Band for a smaller-scale piece, The Walk Across America for Mother Earth. The self-explanatory title refers to a nine-month protest walk that Mac took at the age of 18.

Meanwhile, Daniel Kitson and Reggie Watts are just two of the festival's performers who promise to bring their ardent fan bases with them. Kitson, whose Edinburgh Fringe Festival performances have become legendary, brings his one-man The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church  to St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, while Watts---who accumulated a whole new group of enthusiasts earlier this year while touring with Conan O’Brien---presents Dutch A/V, a live-edited film about his fascination with Holland.

If process is more your thing, then feel free to watch a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright create new material in Suzan-Lori Parks: Watch Me Work. There will be a brief question-and-answer period at the end of each 75-minute session, but other than that, the title says it all: Parks will work on her latest project in the lobby of the Public. And you can watch.

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Eric Grode, the author of the recently released “Hair: The Story of the Show That Defined a Generation” (Running Press), was theatre critic at the New York Sun from 2005 to 2008.