Theater archives

Monica Bill Barnes & Company’s Frank Acts


A performance by Monica Bill Barnes puts strange thoughts into my head. Do I want to take her home and sit her on a sofa so her big eyes can follow me around and keep my life from feeling humdrum? Or do I want to lock her in the attic? Suddenly Summer Somewhere, her new duet with Anna Bass, is no different. Barnes is a small, very pretty woman who moves big; she’s grabby with space, springy, vibrant with life. But she most often presents herself and her dancers as awkward, uncertain, teetering on edges we don’t even know exist.

The pair stride into view and position themselves at two mics that have up to now been used by audience members brave enough to sing along with Frank Sinatra. Tonelessly, Barnes and Bass echo Dean Martin rendering “I Love Vegas.” Only a blackout separates that mismatch from a scene in which the women, wearing dowdy coats, stand face to face on top of a small table set with a few dishes. A clock, its pendulum swinging, hangs behind them. Slightly hunched, staring glassy-eyed past each other, they take cautious, shuffling steps forward and back, as if the danger of falling were great. On some level, maybe it is. Oops, there goes a plate.

As Sinatra (mostly) sings a parade of seductive golden oldies, they perform a number of inscrutable acts. Barnes lies on her belly, digs her chin into the floor, mouth open, and curves one arm out like a broken wing. Then she rises, goes over to the table where Bass still stands, grabs her by the ankles and shakes her hard.

To “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You,” they execute a deadpan foxtrot side by side and put on mean faces. To “Call Me Irresponsible,” they button up the coats they’ve unbuttoned, hug each other, and smirk. One of them poses, and the other lugs her around. No one’s a smoothy on this bumpy metaphoric dance floor. Another time, when they attempt to hug (to “You Make Me Feel So Young”), their straight, stuck-out arms won’t mold into anything resembling an embrace; they move to different spots and keep trying. But Barnes gets happier when Bass pushes her into little flights as they circle the floor.

In the end, Barnes, about to remove her coat, has to stop and prop Bass up before she falls. When she sheds the garment and stands on it in her glittery little maroon party dress, Bass is bending lower and lower. Maybe I won’t take either of these two home: The world needs them in all their sour glory.