As it is with motion. Both Stein's mock innocence and the film's failed worldliness have their funny side, and the staging, even at its peaks of frenzy, is the lightest and giddiest thing the Group has ever done. Under the vertiginous and sometimes genuinely scary swing of the four huge lamps, the actors scamper from side to side in the dark, colliding, throwing things, clutching or dodging each other. In addition to an ornate musical score that seems to have ransacked most of the 19th century and every filmland cliché, there is an elaborate soundtrack that begins with nature noises and evolves toward what might be described as an illustrated lecture on the possible tonalities of the crash box. Among its many jokes are a duck that quacks whenever Mephisto or Faustus says something blatantly false, and, buried under Marguerite's plea for help, a hospital call "paging Dr. Faustus."
The combination of a film source and the bits of operatic spectacle called for in Stein's stage directions seems to have inspired director Elizabeth LeCompte to see how many movie-genre high points she could transpose onto her stage: Besides chases, tortures, and seductions, there's a creation-of-the-monster apotheosis, a water ballet, and even a climactic shoot-out. Another comic high point is the scene in which the cured Marguerite sits in glory "with an artificial viper beside her," a direction which the Group treats as a chance to disrupt the Steinian monologue with the subverbal responses of a snake-headed prop (its voice provided, hilariously, by John Collins), handled by Valk in her demurest Shari Lewis manner.
Suzzy Roche (left) and Kate Valk in House/Lights: All electricity requires resistance.
House/Lights By the Wooster Group Performing Garage 33 Wooster Street 966-3651
Valk's performance, of course, is the centerpiece of the feast the show sets out. Those who are expecting something like the tragic weight and depth of her work in The Hairy Ape and The Emperor Jonesshould be forewarned: This is the other side or, speaking cubistically, one of the 20 other sides of Valk's talent. It's a demonstration of her aplomb, her wit, her sophisticated ability to turn a line reading within two words from utter sincerity to wry deadpan scorn. That she always suggests, behind the aplomb, the pain that sang out openly in O'Neill, is merely a formality, the authenticating stamp on a document you already know to be truthful.
Roche, Roy Faudree (Boy), and Ari Fliakos (Dog) give her able help in this dementia. The assertive soundtrack is by James "J.J." Johnson and John Collins, the subtly interactive video by Philip Bussmann and Christopher Kondek. The source of the varied, amazingly mobile lights, no surprise, is Jennifer Tipton. My only complaint about the show is addressed to the dramaturg, who should have told Valk to pronounce "Helena" with the accent on the first syllable. But the dramaturg who was Valk herself undoubtedly had more important things to do.