Almost a Woman | Performing Arts Sidebar | Chicago Reader
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TANGO EDWARDO

Bourgeois Salad Productions

at Live Bait Theater, through June 23

Edward Thomas-Herrera says in "This Is What Went Wrong," an introduction of sorts to his performance poetry show: "This is a show called Tango Edwardo. This is a little to do with tango and a lot to do with Edwardo." And it's true. Herrera's poetry is mostly concerned with Herrera. He's charmingly modest about that fact, sheepishly mocking his own indulgence as if to say, "I just can't help thinking about myself, but gee, aren't I cute?"

Herrera is cute in a sweet, naive way. He's a young man delighted by the discovery of his own homosexuality and femininity and consequent attraction to female role models. Yet this delight is tinged with irony, because he seems to know that he can never be the women he emulates.

Throughout Tango Edwardo, Herrera seems like a woman trapped in the body of a very gentle man. His feminine side is embodied in the Edwardettes (Erin Dailey and Marcia Jablonski), two girls who in the beginning go on shopping sprees, eat bonbons, and read trashy magazines, but later transform into some of Herrera's female idols: Clytemnestra, Norma Shearer, Marlo Thomas, Saint Theresa, and Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz.

In his most powerful poems, Herrera squeezes into the minds of these legendary women. "Norma Shearer Etude I" provides a haunting portrait of the Hollywood legend in a desperately weak moment. As Dailey sits at a vanity and subtly acts out the situation, Herrera tells the story. "Norma Shearer is searching serious frantic. Searching for a particular shade of ruby red lipstick that was sitting on her vanity just a second ago. A particular shade that will match her new ruby red Ferragamo pumps just perfectly."

Building upon the repetition of phrases, such as "just a second ago," Herrera captures Shearer's confusion and wonderment as to where the ruby red lipstick could have gone. He twists the situation to create an image of a lonely woman whose glory days are gone. "Perhaps Norma Shearer is recalling a time now long past in which that particular shade of ruby red lipstick . . . sat on her vanity nonchalant for all the world to see plain as the nose on Norma Shearer's face and now some bizarre twist of deja vu memory trompe l'oeil has brought that particular shade of ruby red lipstick from a previously dormant fourth dimension time/space continuum incarnation kicking and screaming into living color current events presentness."

Herrera has mastered stepping into the psyches of these women, but his poetry falls apart when he steps back and comments on the situation he has created. In "Theresa in Ecstasy," he sets a powerful, beautiful scene of religious passion: "The sultry summer air becomes turbulent. Saint Theresa does not stir. A gust of wind extinguishes her tallow candles. From Saint Theresa not a peep. The temperature in that hot box she calls home rises dramatically yet Saint Theresa is still psychically orbiting the planet at the speed of faith. Her Carmelite habit swirls and billows around her in great swaths of black and white and white and black. Her ample form grows weightless her feet leave the dirt floor her covered head grazes the ceiling. Levitating airborne taking a ride on God's broad hairless back."

Herrera then ruins this vision in the poem's last line: "[Theresa] jots down an inspired gloss on what it was like to be fucked by an angel." Until that point the poem spoke for itself.

The problem with Tango Edwardo is that Herrera undermines his poetry by not trusting his own voice. In the reprise of "This Is What Went Wrong," a series of about 20 sentences that all begin with "this is," Herrera says, "This is stringing together disparate thoughts and images does not necessarily poetry make. This is realizing how far I have yet to go. This is I figured it was worth a shot." Herrera has found an enduring charm in admitting his weaknesses, but at the same time these admissions also sap the strength of his poetry. After the "This Is What Went Wrong" reprise, I thought to myself that he should stop apologizing and just do it right the next time.

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