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Flash Review 2, 1-8: Screen Test
Cathy Weis's Slam-Dunk

By Terry Hollis
Copyright 2001 Terry Hollis

Cathy Weis is ready for her close-up and you better be too. Sunset Boulevard notwithstanding, the affect of seeing yourself on screen can be pretty damn incredible and the affect it has on the folks watching better still. It makes you untouchable and condenses everything into one neat little package that can be carried around, distorted or repeated over and over again. In the hands of this Bessie Award-winning artist the screen's images or their intentions are not so tidy. "Show Me," seen Friday at The Kitchen, combines live performers with Ms. Weis's wacky world, shrunk to fit the screen, but it also drags you in with it. Soon, techno-reality blends right in with the proceedings. As Ms. Weiss sits, taunting the audience, above a carnival dunking booth filled with virtual sharks, it becomes clear that the predators are a nasty metaphor for society. Soon the audience warms up, and more and more volunteers try to knock her in. We know the sharks aren't real but, well, we just can't help it....

You never know just where the lines of "Dunkin' Booth" are drawn. The piece is already in progress as we walk into the theater (when did it start?). As Ms. Weis informs us with a wink and a nod, "You know how to play this game," volunteers pay one dollar for the chance to feed her to the sharks. Zane Frazer and Scott Heron form an unlikely pair of accomplices and keep the atmosphere deceptively light while the constant up/down of the house lights make the whole thing a little disorienting. When someone does get lucky and hits the bullseye, Ms. Weis lets out a wail as the larger screen in the rear shows her swimming under water (no sharks this time). It's great to see the sequence repeat over and over because, like life, the clowns come out and get the room going and before you know it, Bam! You're dunked! It was hard for me not to get up and take a shot myself, but then again, the reviewer throwing objects at the artist is probably one metaphor too many.

"Face to Face" should be subtitled "Nowhere to hide." Performing in almost unbearable silence, Jennifer Monson confronts the image of herself and is alternately captivated and rebellious. She begins at the corner of the stage in almost complete darkness while a monitor upstage casts the only light on the back wall. Ms. Monson's movements are detailed and sinuous as she makes her way towards the monitor and become more energized and even violent the closer she gets. The tone changes when Ms. Monson is directly in front of the screen; she seems to be fascinated and unable to tear herself away. At one point she waves her hand frantically just outside of the light, begging to be let out of the grip. When she finally does break free she executes an incredible series of violent crashes into the floor and rips into her dancing as if it's the only thing that can keep her from going back. Eventually she becomes at home in front of the camera and even cradles the monitor itself while the light sinks down into her stomach. In the hands of a novice this moment could end up as gooey sentimentality, but Ms. Monson makes her passion very functional and it's obvious that she really needs to do this. The distorted image of her face on the back screen makes it impossible to write her off as "everywoman"; her body may be an anonymous shape but every line and feature lets you know she's flesh and blood.

The interesting thing about "A Bad Spot Hurts Like Mad" is that you have two people who are clearly concerned with each other, obsessed even, but never manage to connect on-stage. Mr. Heron and Ms. Weis are possibly lovers divided by time or some other obstacle who seem to be making their way back to each other. Using small round discs, they project images of themselves while the real thing remains just out of reach. As Mr. Heron talks of the 1930s and his times with Ms. Weis, she remains in the back and constantly adjusts the size and shape of her projections. They do come together at times; while one pushes a projector on a very cool cart (created by Janet Clancy), the other holds a disc that reflects an image. If we could see them acknowledge each other's presence on-stage we might get a sense of what that connection was and understand the urgency to get it back. The wonderfully creepy lighting was provided by David Herrigel.

I love cartoons, especially the simply drawn, boxy figures used in "Not So Fast Kid." Even more fun was the way Ms. Weis limited the movements of her performers to complement the animation. Using a live Internet feed from Skopje, Macedonia the piece includes virtual, live and animated performers that create three sets of families. Jovica Mihajlovski begins by explaining the piece to the audience, with Ms. Weis as his interpreter. The only problem is he is speaking in accented English and she still takes liberties with his meaning. This theme is carried on throughout the piece. Patricia Hoffbauer, Ms. Frazer, Erin Cornell, and Ishmael Houston-Jones carry out their peculiarities as do the "Internet" family and those great cartoons. But each one gets more and more distorted. Though the piece doesn't stick to a linear path, comparing the three groups keeps you occupied. Ms. Weis works in some nice movement, including an opening solo for Ms. Cornell and a beautifully danced solo for Ms. Hoffbauer. The overall effect is like a post-modern tennis match that has your attention bouncing from place to place.

Artists are constantly trying to condense meaning into a digestible package and video definitely helps with that. Cathy Weis shows us without a doubt that meanings can get larger while the pictures get smaller.

"Show Me" continues at The Kitchen January 9 to 13 at 8 p.m. For more information, please visit The Kitchen web site.

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