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Group Efforts: love between the covers

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Barrie Cole and Theresa Sofianos both use the word "obsession" when discussing their relationship with the printed word. "I've always checked too many books out of the library," says Cole, a performance artist and playwright who grew up in Evanston. When she was a child, she says, "whenever we'd go to the city, we'd go to a used bookstore and our parents would let us pick out one book. It was exciting to choose the book and let the book choose you."

Sofianos, a second-grade teacher and performance artist who grew up in Palos Park, tells a similar story. "We had hobby fairs at school when I was a kid, and my hobbies were collecting books," she says. "I had all the Little House books, all the Nancy Drew, and all the Oz books. My favorite thing was ordering books from the Scholastic Book Club. My mom used to let me get a whole stack. It was so exciting when they finally came."

Cole and Sofianos met a few years ago at the Glass Layers performance festival, an annual show for graduates of Columbia College's interdisciplinary arts program. Last year they decided to curate a show together, and it didn't take them long to pick a topic. "I remember hearing on NPR a couple of years ago how they're transferring books from the Library of Congress onto computer disks," says Sofianos. "We thought it would be timely to do a series about performers responding to books." "Book Marks," which opens this weekend, examines the impact books have had on people's lives.

"We both do performance work, but it's very different. But we both use text in some form," says Sofianos, whose work often features vocalization and elaborate costumes. For "Book Marks" she's collaborated with composers Thomas Yager-Madden and Rebecca Pavlatos to create a sound piece called With Her Mouth Wide Open, which was inspired by by Pär Lagerkvist's Nobel Prize-winning 1956 novel The Sibyl.

In her monologues, Cole has investigated topics as varied as gossip, mating rituals, and Appalachian folklore, while also examining the nature of language. She says her new piece, This Book, is about "how you can read a book and it seems to rearrange all your ideas about the way life works, and how sometimes when a book is really powerful you'd rather live in it, rather than in the world."

The "Book Marks" shows will include pieces about a family that eats books, a response to Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis," an examination of the poetry of 13th-century Sufi mystic Jelaluddin Rumi, and an homage to Lewis Carroll and Italo Calvino that includes giant pop-up books. They've also rounded up a number of special guests, including Sofianos's sister Kathryn, a librarian, who will discuss the Dewey decimal system; her cousin, optometrist Christine Walko, who will explain the physiology of reading; and reading specialist Beth Birsa, who will discuss the history of Dick and Jane and the basal reader.

While they were planning the show, Sofianos moved into Cole's old apartment in Humboldt Park. "It has a lot of bookshelves," she says.

"Book Marks" runs this weekend and next, with different performers and guests each night. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 and Sunday at 7 at Link's Hall, 3435 N. Sheffield. Tickets are $10; for reservations call 773-281-0824.

--Cara Jepsen

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.

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