Installation Sites Its Set on a Mythological Montana Prairie

In southwestern Montana, nature reigns supreme—near-molten earth, wildfires, big angry skies, and breathtaking beauty. Geyser Land, Ann Carlson and Mary Ellen Strom’s intriguing, if sprawling, performance installation, occurs on a passenger train between Livingston and Bozeman. In the Livingston depot we saw reminders of the displaced or bygone: Native Americans dancing to drums, and re-enacted historical photographs (tableaux vivants). The trackside tableaux seen from the train, lit to contrast the velvety dark, had tremendous visual impact—notably “Dynamiting the Pass,” where workers clung precariously to a tunnel arch. En route (about 25 miles), Strom’s projections from the train fell onto passing terrain and barns. They emanated a ghostly magic—horses and buffalo galloping alongside, veering wildly in scale as the “screen” shape-shifted. A real-life poker group, storytellers, and a kindly doctor provided on-train local cameos, joined by a misplaced dancer whose lightning-quick explosion of spasms and shrieks elicited offers of help from viewers. Ultimately, the majestic landscape and the captivating tales of the epic battle between man and nature—still being written—outshone the logistical tedium inherent in such an ambitious project. —Susan Yung

Women as Dolls and Depraved, Demonized Figures at the 2003 Fringe

Women, apparently, have it rough. Barbara King and Ksenia Vidyaykina presented contrasting explanations of why in Maiden America and Trapped, performed at the Play Room and the Linhart Theatre. Maiden America featured six doll-women in black tank tops and crinolined miniskirts cavorting in a factory warehouse, happily aspiring to beauty, conformity, and wealth. From the beginning we got it: fashion magazines, bad. Alpha males, bad. Red heels, bad. But then why use such cute girls, and what’s the alternative? When one of the six rebelled against the singsongy capitalist expectations, dissent spread among the robotic ranks, but without clear direction. Maiden America turned toward the lyrical, with barefoot ballet steps and white ribbons thrown in for a confusing resolution.

Trapped lured us to a dark, painful place where milk oozed from gashed nipples, a dead fish was removed from a mermaid’s pregnant tummy, and a sliver of bloody thigh-skin was peeled in an act of exhibitionism and self-mutilation. Vidyaykina possesses hypnotic physical and directorial powers, and impressively held forth in vignettes featuring six troubled souls. Among them were a dejected flapper-era negligee-and-skin stripper, and a blood-drooling black spider who climbed the set and the audience with help from an endless red cloth. Vidyaykina must understand how it feels to be locked in a broom closet for years on end. Each fragmented word, gesture, and video-clip satisfyingly coalesced in a timeless, chilling portrait of female depravity and isolation. —Meital Waibsnaider