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Flash Review 3, 4-5: Is that a Dance In Your Pocket?
Susan Marshall goes Film Noir

By Vanessa Manko
Copyright 2002 Vanessa Manko

NEW YORK -- Susan Marshall's latest work, "One and Only You," had its New York premiere last night at the newly renovated Symphony Space. One could easily sum up this dance-theater work, sculpted around a failing writer and the creation of his latest endeavor -- a mystery about a missing manuscript and three dangerous dames -- as "Raymond Chandler meets modern dance." Except, in this case, the hard-boiled crime fiction is written by Marshall's husband, Christopher Renino, and is really a spoof on the genre. In the process of crafting this story, the piece explores a myriad of topics: the writing process itself, with its painstaking revisions; the key elements needed for a good piece of crime fiction; a failing marriage; the desire for love and success; and, finally, in an oblique way, the relationship between dance and writing.

What Marshall has done here, in collaboration with Renino and the music group Liminal, which created and performs the original score, is bring the audience into the writer's world, and, most importantly, into the writer's mind. The piece moves a bit clumsily at times back and forth between the writer's reality, which consists of long hours seated at table and an ignored and under-appreciated wife, to his fictional world which takes shape, literally, in the dancers that act out the writers many scenes and synopses alongside his realistic world. It's a simple, yet clever way of indicating real life from fiction and, of course, the two do cross paths throughout the evening.

We see how a writer can become obsessed with his characters, with trying to figure out who they are, what they are going to do and say, and what is going to happen to them, all to the detriment of his real life. The dancers/characters intrude on this writer's life and damage a delicate marriage. In short, there is a story within a story in "One and Only You," that of the writer's life within that of his creation. Perhaps the most interesting part of this set-up is the act of revision that is presented to us throughout the piece, for every writer knows that the real writing is done through the process of revision. Thus, we are walked through these painstaking revisions as our writer Jack steps into and out of his fictional world, donning a hat when he becomes the stealth crime detective Hudson. Scenes are repeated as Jack works out his plot, sketches a character, or crafts a dialogue. As he does this, he pulls and prods the dancers into place, gives them gestures and, literally, sculpts his characters. All the while, the narrative voice is heard throughout the piece.

A majority of the dancing takes place in the fictional world of this developing detective novel about a missing, unpublished manuscript. The cast of characters includes not only one fundamental femme fatale, but three -- a pair of lethal, but languorous twins, Stella and Bella, and the heroine in distress, Anna Van Pratt. Also present is the archetypal bad guy, Lucky, who seems to be in cohorts with Bella and is described in a hilarious one-liner as "a man who made expensive cologne smell cheap." (These quips appear quite frequently in this work. While poking fun at the genre of detective fiction with such over-the-top parody, the work also pays tribute to it, revealing how seamlessly its elements are woven into our cultural consciousness. We know these characters: the austere and distant detective who has a weakness for women and whisky, the lecherous bad guy, the gorgeous damsel in distress, the evil beauties.)

The three women often perform effectuated gestures of show-girl pin-ups, jutting out a hip here and there, over-exaggerating an air of mystery and intrigue by lounging on tables and chairs, slithering around partners and using their licentious ways to get what they want -- the manuscript. Marshall plays with archetypal feminine gestures -- a hand raised to the brow feigning distress, or held to the hip -- which gets a bit tired as the gestures are repeated. The most interesting elements choreographically come when the writer is sketching his characters through the process of revision; where we see scenes played out again and again. For example, when he introduces Anna Van Pratt, she repeatedly stands up from her seat, arches back and throws herself, torso and all, into a greeting.

While this was indeed a dance-theater piece, I kept waiting for the dancing to take off, which only happened in fits and starts. The dancing seemed tacked on here to the larger issues at work, and I craved more movement. Perhaps the dance and text needed to be woven more intricately.

"One and Only You" is entertaining, witty, and hilarious at some points -- particularly in Symphony Space artistic director (and radio's Selected Shorts host) Isaiah Sheffer's role as literary critic. "One and Only You" also points to the relationship between dance and writing by focusing on the process of revision and repetition involved in each. This is a worthwhile piece, constructed with care and thought. It makes for an enjoyable and entertaining evening and is sure to generate conversations about dance and writing, however minimal the actual dancing. Mark DeChiazza, as the tormented writer, Jack, and the suave detective Hudson, conveyed the appropriate mix of struggling artist and distracted husband. Jill A. Locke, who stepped in for Kristen Hollinsworth as wife Sara and one of the lethal twins, Stella, played a cool femme fatale more successfully than her role as a wounded wife. The cast was rounded out by Krista Langberg as Bella, Petra van Noort as Anna, and the aloof Steven Fetherhuff as bad guy Lucky.

"One and Only You" repeats tonight and tomorrow at Symphony Space. For more information, please visit the Symphony Space web site.

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