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Flash Review 2, 2-5: Pass Me that Gui-tar 'Fore I Smash Another Beer Can on My Forehead
Dawson Goes West, Young Dancer/Singer/Actor

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2002 Maura Nguyen Donohue

NEW YORK -- Stacy Dawson calls her first evening-length work, "Best Western," a "hallucination that pays tribute to the legacies forged in the underbelly of country and western American folk music." Like any good hallucination, the work, which played at PS 122 this past weekend, trips through moments of complete obscurity into flashes of incredible brilliance. It moves beyond the obvious Dawson staple of comedic lip-synching into a darker internal journey for denizens of a lonely and heart-broken realm. It's her delirious homage to country music.

Dawson, a Bessie award-bearing actor/dancer, can sing herself a serious Loretta Lynn. And, though I am far from being any kind of fan of country western music, I found myself completely enchanted with her each time she took to the microphone. She is a master of subtly shifting facial expressions and handles both live singing and lip-synching with equal ease. She has repeatedly shown herself to be a riveting performer and it's this intensity that saves me from the deadly pacing of sitting through sappy song after silly song.

Structurally, "Best Western" often stumbles into disarray. Frank DenDanto III's lighting helps evoke many a dismal and dusty saloon, but the full stage picture is too often unfocused. The work was created in collaboration with the performers, but would have benefited from a director's eye. The shifts between vignettes seem accidental and some members of the cast do little more than try to enhance the mood. But, next to powerhouse performers like David Neumann, Steven Rishard and Katie Workum there would seem little else to do.

In fact, the sharpest moments are those focused down to a couple performers at a time. Neumann and Rishard perform a quick glimpse coked-up duet of rapidly shifting gestures. It is a moment to relish -- brief and tightly executed. Workum and Rishard maneuver through dynamic and stunning duets with enormous agility and razor-sharp timing. There is a moment where the two swing from giggling lovers to embattled abuser and victim that slices through the entire evening like a gunshot. I particularly appreciated a sequence, led by Rishard, where the music drops into an early American lament with the entire cast singing a capella. The song is arranged to bring the bright hot despair right up so close to us that we can't escape it -- no matter how many beer cans we smash on our foreheads.

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