Jack Ferver is a well-loved figure on New York’s downtown performance circuit, so it is no wonder that I arrive to Abrons Arts Center’s largest space (the Playhouse) to find that every available seat in the house is full. For the uninitiated (though, arguably, the bulk of this crowd is not), the jewel-box theatre set-up, red velvet curtain and all, could be deceiving – it might be so, for instance, for the older lady with a heavy European accent I can’t quite place who is sitting right next to me. What kind of a performance is it that Ferver does... is it dance? She wants to know. My brain analyzes her stern, unconvinced features, computes that she has no idea just what she is in for, and diplomatically furnishes the answer: “Well, his work is labeled as dance, but it is really quite theatrical.” The houselights conveniently dim on that statement.

The stage for All of a Sudden is adorned with a sparse décor – much of the stage picture is dominated by a handsome array of ropes hanging from the rafters (oh, Freud, you are doing line readings for me again), and a sculptural tower of sorts, an abstracted contraption of dressing-room lightbulbs and a media tray with a TV/VCR perched on top and partially obliterated by a panel of translucent plastic. From the outset, Ferver’s casual rapport with his performing partner (Jacob Slominski) and the presence of his dramaturg (Joshua Lubin-Levy) – who spends much of the show seated at the edge of the stage, observing and commenting on the proceedings – establishes a rehearsal-room atmosphere for the duration of the piece.

Here, Ferver alternately buries his teeth into two very different forms of camp classics – Paul Verhoeven’s universally panned movie Showgirls, and Tennessee Williams’ troubled play Suddenly Last Summer. Naturally, this provides some juicy fodder for Ferver’s expert histrionics, with requisite edges of violence and hysteria, which he fiercely displays on the stage without much (if any) restraint. In spite of being inspired by a theatrical classic, the piece doesn’t follow such convention of dramaturgy, rather adopting a fragmented, zeitgeisty approach. The theatrical scenes, which maintain an unnerving edge between being hilarious and disturbing all the once, alternate with looped, repetitive dance “actions”, and are both occasionally interrupted by Ferver himself, as he seeks affirmation from his unperturbed, straight-from-the-hip dramaturg.

All of a Sudden might be a hell of a mash-up, but don’t think for a second there isn’t a larger agenda at work here. Ferver built an entire oeuvre around an unflinching (and unsparing) exploration of self, and this work is no exception. While mining his source material for juicy tidbits of brutality and mayhem, he is also re-exhuming a healthy dose of personal history of troubled relationships, where themes of codependent love and abuse run as concurrent leitmotifs, constantly surfing the edges between the fictional and the personal, effortlessly treading the boundary between moments of stagecraft and authenticity, leading to a cathartic conclusion.