Avant-Garde January! It's Koltes, the TEAM, Toshiki Okada, and, er, Ira Glass

A critical dive into the Under the Radar, Other Forces, and Coil festivals

Noda’s The Bee also fights against its own fixity. An absurdist comedy, co-written with Colin Teevan and somewhat in the style of Max Frisch or Eugene Ionesco, the play concerns Ido, a salaryman (played in button-down drag by Peter Brook regular Kathryn Hunter) who returns from work to find that a notorious criminal has invaded his house and made hostages of his wife and son. In retaliation, Ido enters the criminal’s house and does the same. The four actors are strong (Noda himself stars as the criminal’s gogo-dancer wife), but each moment feels too rehearsed, too canned, and the gender-switching undercuts the violence at the play’s core.

There’s violence, too, as well as rage, bewilderment, and despair, in the other show at the Japan Society, Chelfitsch Theater Company’s poignant and sly Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner, and the Farewell Speech, a triptych of short office-set plays by Toshiki Okada. But in these pieces, any strong emotion is buried so far beneath shrugging ambivalence as to seem almost undetectable. Here, four temporary employees and two full-timers at the same nameless company cover over their distress with futile babble. Yet their spastic gestures and the stark lighting design suggest the desperation lurking below their conversations about temperature settings and dish detergent.

Okada makes a virtue of diminishment, yet the same can’t be said for Robert Cucuzza’s Cattywampus at the Incubator Arts Project. This line-by-line adaptation of August Strindberg’s Miss Julie still concerns a racy dame (Jenny Greer) who falls for a social inferior (DJ Mendel). But Cucuzza has updated the script to contemporary backwoods America, a place with more fluid class structures, and it has made Julie a dissatisfied housewife rather than the earlier play’s putative virgin. Consequently, her dalliance with a detailer at her husband’s failed car lot lacks tragic consequences, forcing the ardent actors to strain for emotive effect.

An economic saga--with songs: Heather Christian in Mission Drift
Ves Pitts
An economic saga--with songs: Heather Christian in Mission Drift

Details

Under the Radar
Various locations
undertheradarfestival.com
Coil 2012
Various locations
ps122.org
Other Forces
Incubator Arts Project
131 East 10th Street
incubatorarts.org

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Greater stakes are evident in Lick But Don’t Swallow!, a play by Turkish company Biriken at La MaMa. An angel (Ayça Damgaci), who longs to keep her heavenly status, must descent to earth for 24 hours and in that time convince at least one person to turn toward righteousness. Things are made more difficult when she discovers her terrestrial identity—a porn star famous for her inventive postures. It’s a fine concept, but the play falters in the execution. Repetitive scenes occur in which Damgaci fakes copulation while chattering on about the plight of Africans.

If Lick’s porn star mourns the fate of a continent, Chimera—a wily gloss on the solo show by Philadelphians Suli Holum and Deborah Stein at Here—concerns itself with only a single woman. Or is that two women? While a mythological chimera is a beast with a goat’s head, a lion’s torso, and a snake’s tale (what a thing that would be to see onstage!), Jennifer Samuels (Holum) is a medical chimera, a scientist who discovers that she possesses two distinct sets of DNA, her own and that of the twin she absorbed during gestation and who has colonized several of her organs, including her ovaries. Chimerais focused, precise, and clean—white costumes, white set. It is also expertly assembled and performed, a show with very good DNA. Indeed, it offers audiences the satisfaction of seeing plot, structure, and performance twine together—a triple helix as beautiful as anything.

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