Theater archives

Raising the Flag


“He’s wrapping himself in the flag,” we say scornfully of a politician who invokes patriotism to stifle dissent. Alexandra Beller literally wraps herself in the flag (making it her dance partner, her shroud, and a bedsheet to masturbate beneath). At the end of her solo,
US, she lays out Old Glory, cleanses it with a wet mop, bundles it into her arms, and pulls out a breast to nurse it. Then she sings it a lullaby in Spanish.

Pick any topic over which conservatives and liberals lock horns—immigration, Abu Ghraib, abortion, politicized religion, same-sex marriage; Beller visits them all. How she does it is pretty astonishing. Director Kristin Marting and lighting designer Amanda K. Ringger have clearly contributed much to shape and pace this volcanic dance-theater piece, but Beller—a bright young force on the experimental scene—dreamed up the idea and the choreography. And her voluptuous, no-nonsense presence socks almost every point imaginatively home (credit George W. Bush, whose recorded voice is dissected and rhythmatized, with subliminal help).

Beller won’t allow her audience to be passive. At one point she dictates rapidly, one sentence at a time, to each of the groups sitting on four sides of the black-box theater; we’re to take notes, using the index cards and the pencils found on our chairs. Each group gets a chance to read aloud its complete text (my unit’s begins, “If you want a slave, buy him from other nations. . . do not make slaves of your own people”). One spectator helps her twist
the flag into a jump rope. She lovingly addresses a guy in the first row as if he’s a good friend, but later blasts him for not coming to help her as she laboriously attempts to rise from one of her rolling-on-the-floor dances. Then she apologizes to him—very nicely.

Beller epitomizes what the term “natural woman” is meant to convey. Her frankness and her earthiness are immediately endearing. She can get away with a cliché like dancing erotically with a red-tressed mop because she also does something as interesting as singing, “Home on the Range” to the tune of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” As she drags inflatable sex dolls out from under the seats, one by one, and—impaling their orifices on the mop—tosses them into a pile, what begins almost comically ends in re-creating the horrific Abu Ghraib photo.

Does she try to tackle too many ideas? Maybe. But she fearlessly relates them all to the current degradation of those values that the American flag once symbolized.