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.


Compagnie Maguy Marin
Joyce Theater
Through October 11

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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