Pared Down

MAYBE THE HEYDAY of gay life in San Francisco's Castro district never really resembled Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, but the population of the TV series--not-quite-out gays, drag queens, supportive neighbors, worried relatives, and homophobes to be won over--modeled familiar attitudes. Deeply There (stories of a neighborhood) by San Francisco director-choreographer Joe Goode drags that kind of community into the era of AIDS, torquing sitcom banality into a personal statement about loss. Gone are the days when a neighbor would fete a couple of new lovers with breakfast in bed. Clustered around this bed--which represents the dying ''Ben''--are Ben's lover Frank (Goode), a dogmatically helpful neighbor (Marc Morozumi), a single lesbian mom (Jennifer Wright Cook) and her eight-year-old son (Willis Bigelow), the transvestite Imelda (Vong Phrommala), Ben's introverted son (Felipe Barrueto Cabello), his stridently homophobic sister Joyce (Liz Burritt), and his dog (Marit Brook-Kothlow).

Death strains their connections--makes Frank morose, makes Joyce launch diatribes against the gay lifestyle, makes Imelda exhort Ben to get up and live; makes almost everyone snap at everyone else. Goode, composer Robin Holcomb, and the marvelous performers have created a musical play that's sometimes very moving, a little drawn out (false endings abound), and finest when it shoves predictability askew. Goode takes the line ''Don't worry. I will be fine'' and chants it as if trying it on for size, turning it into a morbid mantra. He dances with the little boy, a Contact Improv whiz kid; the glum, stolid man and the child he sails through the air are a metaphor for trust and daring. The wise woman-dog sings her puzzlement about the changed atmosphere. After Ben's death, Frank and Joyce get drunk together, tumbling smoothly over a sofa, wielding glass and bottle in a beautifully timed, funny-terrible sharing of fluid.

Details

Compagnie Maguy Marin
Joyce Theater
Through October 11
242-0800

The Kitchen
September 22 through 26

Performance Group
Danspace St. Mark's
September 24 through 27

Often, however, the actions, feelings, text, and sweet soft-pop songs reinforce one another too directly. An actor feels something, says it, sings it, and emphasizes it in gesture. I yearn for some displacement, a little less literalness--some sandpaper that would rub up other possibilities, other subtexts to stir the mind.

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