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Flash Review 3, 12-21: Seriously Damaged Goods
Meg Stuart's "Alibi" for Trauma Drama

By Rosa Mei
Copyright 2001 Rosa Mei

BRUSSELS -- Thought disorder, hallucination, disconnected and non-sensical language.... The "positive symptoms" of schizophrenia. The "negative symptoms"? Flat or blunted effect, lack of emotional tone, apathy and social withdrawal. The characters in Meg Stuart's "Alibi," seen Tuesday at Kaaitheater, are definitely disturbed. We see real life shock treatment, twelve monkeys on acid (only seven dancers though), sniper fire, and echoes of Ken Kesey's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" with the performers alternating between the roles of patients and Nurse Rached. The mix is five parts storm, 1 part calm, just enough time to smoke a cigarette or huddle in the corner if you please. The goods that Stuart and her company, aptly named Damaged Goods, deliver are seriously damaged.

Created during the company's recent residency at Schauspielhaus Zurich, "Alibi" plays in large, and mostly loud, random snippets. Life in the streets, crowds, terror and personal anxiety are all tossed together in a pressure cooker set to high. The setting: a decrepit mental ward complete with a glass enclosed nurse's station/broadcast booth on the side. The decor: two desks, a mattress, a couch, two TVs, loudspeakers and a pay phone on the wall. From the onset, we see tangled, disfigured and maimed bodies bolting about the stage. Situation code red with no sweet hereafter. We hear gunshots and sniper fire, witness random acts of violence. Then one woman seeking solace scales the side wall, squashes her body into an old basketball hoop and just dangles unnoticed. Creature comfort in a harsh, fluorescent world.

The video clips, designed by Chris Kondek, a long-time collaborator with The Wooster Group, echo the malaise of the performers. Projected onto the back wall or playing on two small TV monitors, the twitchy hand-held footage shows grainy, saturated room interiors, narrow corridors and empty highways. News broadcasts and clips of figure skaters flick on and off the tube. At certain points, the barrage of images builds to sensory overload and creates the effect of static or white noise on stage. More fragments, more unfinished stories.

The performers -- some actors, some dancers -- tell their stories through jagged steps, sighs and primarily pedestrian movement. When they're not thrashing around in a panic attack, hitting themselves or chomping on an imaginary bit, they do time. One man rolls a mattress while another stares at a TV, one woman slouches on a couch staring blankly into space while another listens for voices in the wall. When they sit in the nurse's station/broadcast booth, they chastise the patients in the ward. "Thank you. We've seen enough and if we need you we will call you. Thank you. That's lovely." Meanwhile, woman #3 is singing Karen Carpenter songs to herself. Between the sniper attacks and conniption fits, each member of this deranged community offers up a lengthy confession ("I'm guilty of causing four abortions.") or pleads for love and acceptance ("I can be bulimic if you like.")

Truth be said, "Alibi" is not an easy piece to watch. At times, the violence and haranguing feels gratuitous. The piece has so many dramatic arcs, by the fourteenth one you really do start praying for the plague to end. The character studies ring true (one man reminded me of a homeless guy I saw defecating on the sidewalk behind Madison Square Garden) but sometimes degenerate into didactic diatribes and metaphysical guilt trips, the overall effect being that of pulling a horse to water rather than goading it with thirst.

What Meg Stuart excels at is creating raw, subterranean energy, asking hard, complex questions, and then letting the pages and photos fall where they may. She often walks a fine line between drama and melodrama, but no one can mistake the intensity of her intent.

(Editor's note: For more information on the Meg Stuart and Damaged Goods, please click here. To read more reviews by Rosa Mei, enter "Rosa Mei" in the search engine window on our Home page.)

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