The Ol’ Collage Try

While it may be a stretch to call The Sea and Poison a dance piece, the four members of the Chicago-based performance troupe Goat Island certainly know how to hop. Attuned to an interior music no one else can hear, the actors jump around in vaguely geometric zigzags on a square of light. The choreography, like the dramatic structure as a whole, is as patterned as it is intuitive—there’s clearly a method to the madness, though good luck trying to crack the code. Several audience members at the Kitchen never made it past the human pogoing marathon to witness the equally mysterious riffs on biological and societal poisons—everything from pesticides and Gulf War fallout to Camay’s beauty soap advertising. Presented in a blurry, antinarrative fashion, the production never stoops to didactic assault on our environmental waywardness. It’s really more of an exercise in movement, imagery, and pacing—with treadmill-like longueurs that occasionally give way to visions of toxic apocalypse.

Two moments stand out. The first involves the lone female performer (Karen Christopher) showering under a stream of bug spray, her brunette head turning a carcinogenic gray. The other features the gaunt, bulging-eyed figure of Matthew Goulish being dragged about the stage like precious battlefield debris—a would-be corpse in search of proper burial. The thematic resonance of these scenes justified Lin Hixson’s unhurried direction; the rest trickled out with a monotony that had many in their seats scanning for an exit. Goat Island imposes a unique physical discipline on their spatial collages. Their hallucinatory imagination, however, isn’t sufficiently distilled. —Charles McNulty

A Final Act

Grab a hunk of Beowulf, layer on some Animal House, slather with Shakespeare, and sprinkle liberally with Faulkner: There you have The Death of Don Flagrante Delicto, Kirk Wood Bromley’s verse opus (Greenwich Street Theater).

Plot it has aplenty. As news of the South’s defeat reaches the mad slaveholder-playwright of the title, he determines to use the staging of his play—acted by family and slaves—as a means of mass suicide, poisoning them all in the last act. He makes literal the phrase “captive audience” by corralling three assorted war refugees and chaining them to watch his Augustine the Gud, Aethelbert the Bad, about the Anglo-Saxons’ conversion to Christianity. They are not amused, but you will be.

Delicto’s Aethelbert is a hilarious send-up of epic sagas, complete with Karen Flood’s over-the-top costumes of skins, horns, heads, and Day-Glo tights. Accents range from the Nordic to the hillbilly, the music from Gregorian chant to bluegrass. Yokels with blackened teeth two-step to the kazoo, while clerics in hot-pink robes throb sweet harmonies. Director Howard Thoresen manages this moonshine with a broad slapstick sweep, and the cast is studded with comic gold, especially Joshua Spafford as the hunky Aethelbert, Julie Lund as the heroic wench Bertha, and the trio of Darius Stone, Dave Shalansky, and Melanie Martinez as the rap sistas and other hangers-on.

The real star of the piece, though, is the language. Blending the Latinate, the vulgar, and the preposterous, Bromley playfully conjures dialects, puns, conceits, and outlandish rhymes to hysterical effect. In his lip-smacking fantasy about his bride-to-be, Aethelbert salutes her “girgungous titys” and “pubis small as a Franklin pin.”

Entertaining as all this is, it would be funnier at half its three-hour length. Of the play outside the play-within-a-play, the less said the better. When Bromley tackles it straight, you feel your only real kinship with any of his characters—the audience in chains. —Francine Russo

Killer Instincts

As the audience files into the theater, the actors tear about the set. In dim silhouette they dance, struggle, sprint, and shriek in standard-issue cacophony. One voice, somewhat louder than the rest, screams, “Victim, victim! You’re all victims!” No kidding. And the play hasn’t even begun yet.

In some ways, Roberto Zucco (Currican Theatre) never really does begin. Director Daniel Safer is so intent on showing off his auteuristic chops (in this scene, someone’s gonna shit onstage! Then we’re gonna exploit offensive Fu Manchu stereotypes!) that the rather excellent text gets lost. The play itself—by dead French bad-boy Bernard-Marie Koltes in a translation by Martin Crimp—takes liberties with the history of French murderer Roberto Succo. Koltes resets Succo’s crimes in a rotten, entropic world—which goes by the name of Little Chicago. And he makes a fascinating move in alternately vilifying and deifying his hero, robbing the play of any moral center.

But between the nakedness, the fake blood, and the eardrum-bursting music, you can’t help but think of Tallulah Bankhead’s quip: “There is less here than meets the eye.” Safer’s clearly bright, and he directs with considerable verve, but his overheated imagination gets in the way of the script. In the principal role, Peter Bisgaier communicates psychotrauma and savagery up the wazoo without ever arriving at a real character. The women actors, particularly Jessma Evans as a nubile little number, generally fare better.

Confidential to Mr. Safer: I’m sure the budget’s tight, but it’s hard believing in a master criminal who only uses a finger gun. —Alexis Soloski

Taking Their Bows

Get thee fast to the Miller Theater and the Gogmagogs’ show, Gobbledygook (a title that insults the group’s range and talent). The Gogs, as they’re best known at home in London, got together in 1995; violinist Nell Catchpoll and director Lucy Bailey wanted to develop stage skills to go along with their musical techniques. Gobbledygook, the newest of their several shows, uses words for the first time. The pieces’ authors are Caryl Churchill, Rupert Sheldrake, Patrick Barlow, and Neil Innes; the composers—who evoke pop, jazz, Bartók, and Shostakovich—are Roddy Skeaping, Orlando Gough, Django Bates, and Innes.

The show’s four acts interrupt one another, as in a TV channel surf. In the first, a violin bow, the violin, and violinist slowly emerge from a cello-case-as-womb—then life erupts. The evening’s most sustained act is a Requiem mass that counterpoints bass player Lucy Shaw’s jilting of David Lasserson (peppery comedians both) and their rocky reunion. At the end, after romance and farce are exhausted, poetic stagecraft takes over. The scene blacks out and the seven string players’ bows light up like amused stars, one of them twitching slightly to pluck the musical close. —Leighton Kerner

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