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Flash Review 3, 1-10: Red Delicious and a Dagger
Smits Replays Snippets of Faust

By Rosa Mei
Copyright 2002 Rosa Mei

BRUSSELS -- Thierry Smits is a bit of a cult figure in the Belgian dance scene, the bad boy from Limburg. His ten-year old troupe, Compagnie Thor, revels in sexually-charged pieces aimed at shocking the audience, exposing taboo and challenging common myths. In 1994, Smits created "L'Ame au diable," or "Devil Take My Soul," as a loose homoerotic re-telling of the Faust myth in three acts: Le Pacte (the pact that Faust signs with Mephistopheles), Les Sept Peches capitaux (the seven deadly sins in which Faust indulges) and L'Enfer (Hell, where the journey ends). The new version of "L'Ame au diable," seen Tuesday at Theatre Varia, is an hour-long piece redesigned for two casts, one female and one male, with the two versions shown on alternate nights. The motive behind version two? To pare down and hone the original choreography without sacrificing its fundamental lines. A tall order to fill.... Imagine if Coppola had decided to condense all the "Godfathers," parts I through III, into a one-act play. We'd be left with a lot of gunshots, stabbings, dead bodies and pasta eating scenes. Vino rosso, please. And so, in "L'Ame" redux, we see some bitch-slappin', French-kissing, a dagger, some S & M colored camp and titillation. What it amounts to is a lot of foreplay without the deed and jokes half told.

Tuesday night's version featured the male cast, Ken Hioco and Mirco Visconti, linking lips, arms and butts on stage. The piece begins with Hioco naked, of course, scuttling about with a sharp dagger in his hand. He undulates his torso and dophins from one crouched position to another before piercing the blade into his own navel and then perching on the point. Ouch. Wasn't that some form of medieval torture? Visconti enters cracking a whip, sending Hioco into cowering submission. The dominatrix tickles his prey with the end of the whip and then gives the whip handle a blow job. A near kiss, a near embrace and the two players change roles, the dominator and the dominated. He loves me, he loves me not.

In another scene, Visconti stuffs an apple -- Red Delicious -- into his partner's mouth and the the two start voguing to the sounds of sloshing water and oscillating distortion. After removing the apple, he mimes giving his partner a blow job while partner mimes playing a violin. They preen and play peacock for one another while squiggling their arms or prancing in unison to a Bach aria. The fervor builds till both collapse to the ground, exhausted and separated from one another. No happy ending here. More Marlowe than Goethe, but in actuality, very little remains of the original Faust legend in "L'Ame au diable."

What Smits seems to be aiming for in "L'Ame" is a camp sensitivity born of the closet culture. When I think of great homoerotic camp, I think of "Hedwig and the Angry Itch," Stanley Love's "Adam and Steve," Arthur Aviles's "Super Maeva de Oz," David Parker and the Bang Group. It's funny, sad and ironic all at once, low theater held up as high art, artificial, yet real.

Perhaps in its original version version, "L'Ame au diable" made more sense -- not that a piece has to make sense necessarily to succeed. But the parts here don't add up to a whole. What seems like a noble attempt at distilling the essence of the original amounts to more style than substance. A dagger, Red Delicious, a few blow jobs and a lot of preening. But then, what would Coppola have done?

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