"God is the nervous tic of shifting sand dunes," said one character. A guy in the audience nudged his friend, his mouth forming a nearly-audible "huh?"
"The beauty of your face is a precision chronometer," said someone else. A few giggles bubbled up from the back of the theatre, several more sidelong glances were given, one spectator hastily checked his chronometer.
Ordinarily, perhaps, the most memorable images of this sort of evening are of an audience "caught in the act" of being gleefully befuddled. For once, however, the downtown patrons were consistently upstaged by the provocative and frequently thrilling work on display. The creative team behind Evening A of this series, clearly inspired, brought passion and artistry to each of the ten plays on the bill, some of which -- it must be admitted -- contain but little passion or artistry themselves. Even the better plays seemed just a little bit better than they probably are, especially Tristan Tzara's The Gas Heart and Eduardo Quiles's Elsa's Goodbye, which is a tribute to the many actors, directors, choreographers, and designers involved in this project.
Jacqueline Brookes, as Quiles's eponymous heroine, was indescribably charming as a woman who awakens to find, on her bedside table, a loaded pistol and a note from her husband -- "either we both go, or I go on alone." Everything is not what it seems here; in particular, beds shared by aspiring literary artists are not the cradles of bohemian bliss one is often led to believe. Brookes, with dead-on inflated delivery of lines like "constructive criticism was our fairy godmother," lifted this piece beyond the Sandra Bernhard monologue it occasionally threatened to become. (Solid direction by Mitchell Greenberg; one appropriately hilarious costume by Anita D. Ellis.)
Bohemian excess was also a target of Umberto Boccioni in his Genius and Culture (well-directed by Pamela Billig), one of six Futurist sintesi that opened the program. Tom Berdik played an artist who, as Nancy Nichols put it, "wants to renew himself, and he hasn't a cent." Berdik's platitudinous self-absorption ("everything is fragmentary... Oh, art!!") is counterbalanced by the figure of the critic (Phil Miller), who, as usual, knows how everything ought to be done and yet refuses to do it. "How boring you must be in bed," observes Nichols, of the critic. We've said enough about this play.
Space does not allow enough to be said about The Gas Heart, Tzara's utterly-inscrutable-but-who-cares verbal carnival, here staged brilliantly. (In fact, two geriatrics in the audience, previously content to discuss the new flu vaccine entr'acte, laughed uncontrollably at the delirious spectacle concocted by directors Paul Lazar and Annie-B Parson.) "I love the birds at the end of lit cigarettes," said Rebecca Wisocky, as a character named Mouth, her beautiful, gravelly voice brooking no dissent. All of the performers (including Tim Cummings as Eye and Jonathan Woodward as Ear, as well as Mercedes Bahleda, Stacy Dawson, and Kourtney Rutherford) showed nothing less than absolute confidence in this proto-surreal treat, the result being the most cohesive ensemble work in recent memory. This feast for the eye, ear, neck -- whatever-- ought not be missed. (Dazzling musical direction by Christopher Berg, sound by Rick Beenders, costumes by Kitty Leech, and lighting by Paul Jones.)
Copyright 1997 Scott Vogel