New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women and girls. Click
here to see a sample of our products and a list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always performance
at its best.
back to Flash Reviews
Flash Review 1, 9-29: Eyes Wide
Philly Fringe '01: Journette to the Center of Hef's Universe; Chaiken and Pig
Iron Play 'Shut Eye'
By Andrew Simonet
Copyright 2001 Andrew Simonet
PHILADELPHIA -- "The inside of your
body is an infernal secret."
Like Hugh Hefner, New Paradise Laboratories
wants to lay bare and fondle this infernal secret. In "This Mansion is a Hole:
Hugh Hefner Throws a Party at the Center of the Universe," performed September
1-15 at the Philadelphia Fringe festival, New Paradise's fearless and brilliant
performers probed and fingered the cultural legacy of Playboy and the last century's
obsession with "having more of the right kind of sex."
The performers of New Paradise are
versatile and hard-hitting. Company members Lee Etzold, Rene Hartl, Jeb Kreager,
Mary McCool, Aaron Mumaw, and Matt Saunders were joined by Thea Chaloner, McKenna
Kerrigan, and Elizabeth Roberts. They speak, they move, they dance. With complex
blends of acting and movement, they embody the wild and specific moments of director
Whit McLaughlin's work. There is great ambition in both the creation and performance
of a New Paradise piece: the performers are asked to physicalize a subtlety far
beyond most dance and theater.
As the audience enters, Jeb Kreager
stands atop a 20-foot ladder in the center of huge vaulting space, preening in
a cummerbund and shorts. The set design includes two ladders, three huge floating
weather balloons, two blue 15-foot inflatable swimming pools, a fake Christmas
tree divided into three segments, nine electric fans pointed at the audience,
three wrestling mats, five household floor lamps suspended upside down, a 10-foot
copper ring of lights, a fireplace and mantle, and a seemingly endless stream
of handwritten words covering the walls. Aaron Mumaw awkwardly and longingly ogles
other performers in a delicious mix of shy lasciviousness and profound hope. This
is exemplary New Paradise: he doesn't do much, and he doesn't say anything audible.
Yet I am captivated by the way he has captured something in between the categories
most performances inhabit.
Lee Etzold's Hefner monologue near
the end of the piece shares this stunning in-between sort of beauty. She sits
awkwardly in a bathrobe, speaking huskily into a microphone, a bit chastened,
a bit weary, not at all glamorous. She embodies the post-coital ambiguity that
inevitably follows Hef's compulsive party at the center of the universe.
Along the way, we are treated to
a twisted group get-down in a circle of light, various mutations of wrestling
and making it (both physical and verbal), obsessive humping of everything in sight,
a wedding, a frightening tableau of the "eunuch" with stuffed animals around his
face, and an assortment of elements emerging from the performers' crotches: red
ribbons, gifts with red wrapping paper, stuffed animals, and Hefner's voice produced
by groin-mounted speakers.
When a line from "Goldfinger" is
sung, New Parasites (NPL's long-term fans) are reminded of "Gold Russian Finger
Love," NPL's 1998 Fringe piece exploding the world of James Bond. NPL's continued
excavations of baby boomer masculinity (see also "The Fab 4 Reach the Pearly Gates")
are magical, difficult, and brave. The constantly shifting roles, situations,
and levels of meaning are evocative, but they also make it harder for the work
to gather power and momentum as it goes. And the episodic rhythm feels less like
a journey than a series of journettes
The dance community here in Philadelphia
has embraced NPL's work, I think in part because dancers have lower levels of
Conventional Narrative Addiction. New Paradise work can be disorienting for those
obsessed with knowing "what's going on in this part." But for dancers who grew
up watching Pina Bausch, Trisha Brown, and Koosil-Ja Hwang, the gradual and nonlinear
accretion of physical meanings feels insightful, not evasive. This work is research.
The results may be difficult or tentative, but I adore the questions. Wherever
relevant, cogent bodily performance is going, groups like New Paradise Laboratories
will lead us there.
Remaining closer to shore, but with
rhythmic and narrative virtuosity, Pig Iron Theatre Company and Joseph Chaikin's
"Shut Eye" (September 12-15 at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival) is a joyous,
layered dream of sleeping and waking. The razor-sharp ensemble (Gabriel Quinn
Bauriedel, Cassandra Friend, Suli Holum, Sarah Sanford, Geoff Sobelle, James Sugg,
and Dito Van Reigersberg) careens expertly through intersecting stories, held
in place by the elaborately brainy direction (Joseph Chaikin and Dan Rothenberg),
the deft and hilarious text (Deborah Stein), and the perfectly placed, genre-hopping
music (James Sugg).
"Coma patients are so unpredictable."
So says a doctor halfway through
"Shut Eye." At the opening, Geoff Sobelle lies in a coma, his sister (Sarah Sanford)
keeping a lonely vigil by his hospital bed until her co-worker calls needing some
paperwork immediately. And we're off. These two kinds of time continue to collide
throughout the piece. A team of executives prepare to treat the coma patient as
a new product release, mixing medical jargon with corporate metaphors. The patient
himself wakes up to give his own rapid-fire spin on the boardroom game plan. A
exhausted workaholic falls asleep in the salad prepared by her slacker boyfriend.
An insomniac searches for a mythical sleep clinic, stumbling instead into the
corporate offices of a pillow company. The collisions and counter thrusts of futile,
instrumental attention and open-ended, bodily awareness are clever, physical,
But the real brilliance of the piece
is not its subject matter but its form. Characters constantly shift, disappear,
and reemerge, often by way of hospital screens that glide on and off the space,
allowing one performer to replace another seamlessly. The work is flawlessly paced,
blossoming brashly into spectacle before collapsing gracefully back to quiescence.
So many performances that try to layer multiple stories together end up only pointing
to the lack of overall cohesion. "Shut Eye" creates a world so bewildering yet
so beguiling that there is no tension between the stories and their twisted unfolding.
It is thrilling, not frustrating, when an established scene is transgressed and
demolished by characters from another scene. "Shut Eye" dances deliciously past
the Conventional Narrative Addiction, sweeping the audience up with its impeccable
rhythm and generous performers.
And these performers are so damned
good. Geoff Sobelle bounces from his salesman's pitch to a masterful bit of physical
comedy -- driving while drinking coffee, talking on his cell phone, putting in
his contacts, reading, and more -- to a dreamy, muscular duet on a ladder with
stunning mover Sarah Sanford. Sugg captivates as a relentless CEO and a mischievous
minstrel, eminently believable and likable when he bursts into song. When overworked
Suli Holum asks her boyfriend "Do you mind if I sit on the floor?" with one of
those isn't-this-just-crazy expressions on her face, I nearly peed myself with
delight. Cassandra Friend consistently injects life into her wandering insomniac
character, transforming what could have been just a joke into a full story line.
Dito van Reigersberg unleashes his always withering voice and his perfectly timed,
physical sense of comedy. Though they have various strengths, all members of the
company are singers, actors, movers, and all-around charmers, pulling us into
the four-dimensional web of storytelling.
"Shut Eye" is less weighty than many
past Pig Iron productions. That frees the company up to be truly funny, virtuosic,
and communicative. But a part of me longs for the weight I found in PI's "Anodyne,"
"The Tragedy of Joan of Arc," and "Poet in New York." And much of "Shut Eye" rests
on known characters and established performance modes: the uptight executives,
the big Broadway number, the hospital room scene, the cheesy jazz dance. And this
stuff works. But I know they are capable of profound subtleties as performers
and creators, and I would love to see that poetic beauty merge with the clever
splendor of "Shut Eye."
"Shut Eye" is a joy. It is truly
unpretentious and absorbing. If you care about narrative complexity and rhythm,
go see it at Princeton University (Oct. 5-6) or in Warsaw, Poland (Oct. 11-14).
A final note on the Philadelphia
Fringe Festival: the Fringe hosted the first-ever Rockys, Philadelphia's new dance
and performance awards. A great time was had by all at the Fringe cabaret and
bar. Paule Turner, Duchess, and Paul Struck hosted, many companies performed,
and ten Rockys were given out. Here's how it works: this year's ten winners each
give an award next year to anything or anyone they want to recognize as excellent:
a dance, a choreographer, a dancer, a designer, etc. This Whisper Down the Lane
structure makes it personal and positive. No competition, no committees, no winners
vs. losers, just ten community members singling out someone they want to recognize.
We luv youse all.
back to Flash Reviews