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An Unengaged Woman


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Anita Loomis

at Club Lower Links

January 9, 11, 16, and 18

Anita Loomis is awfully cute. She has a boyish, almost impish quality that belies some of the darker aspects of her material. She's lithe and quick, and she moves comfortably and expertly on a stage. She's unapologetically feminist. She's funny. And serious. And earnest as hell.

But for all her cleverness and likability, Loomis's Money, Sex, Love, Art & Public Transportation, her solo debut at Club Lower Links, is erratic at best. The five sections correspond to the subjects listed in the title, and Loomis hit her stride in the "love" portion, a poignant short story about her dying step-grandmother called "No Direct Relation." Unfortunately it's followed by "Success Is a [Hand] Job in New York," a silly if not outright amateurish poke at artistic pretensions. The opening sequence for the entire piece, in which Loomis changes from casual clothes into her old prom dress, is also a disappointment. The literal changing of personas is severely overdone these days, and even Loomis's charm couldn't overcome the expectedness.

The first piece, "$onic Rape," which falls under the "money" rubric, offers a harrowing look at the economics of sex. Rhythmic, clever, and even insidious, Loomis's language coaxes us with a casual, friendly tone at first, then turns inside out into tight-lipped suppressed anger. Using phone sex as a metaphor, Loomis ravages the indifference of male desire for women. Here, in "the girl's room," as Loomis has dubbed the place where the phones are answered, she reminds us that "we all do a shift." Here female desperation surrenders, for money and survival, to the transience and anonymity of male pleasure. Finally the grotesque dynamic explodes when the male caller confuses the moans of the woman who answers the phone--now sprawled on the floor giving birth--for something more sybaritic.

As an opener this piece is critical, establishing Loomis's political platform and worldview. From here on in, whether her stories are personal or political, she lets us know she is talking from a woman's perspective to women--although she's not necessarily excluding men. Indeed, her characters are all naturally, effortlessly women-centered. Later in the show, when she talks about her step-grandmother's need to pass on the materials of her life, Loomis says, "She must tell her stories to someone . . . to some woman."

Unfortunately the first piece also establishes something else: Loomis's perspective, however personally imperative, is ultimately that of an observer. There isn't a single moment in Money, Sex, Love, Art & Public Transportation in which Loomis herself is personally invested or at risk.

Consider: She's a cool narrative voice in "$onic Rape" and in the vague little "sex" section, "Danger Girl." In "Success" she depends on a stereotypically boorish and invented persona to describe her neurotic obsession with Andy Warhol. Even in the touching tale "No Direct Relation," which deals with her step-grandmother's impending chemotherapy and by extension her mortality, Loomis keeps her distance. Relating how the doctor has chosen her as the family member who should know the details of her step-grandmother's cancer and treatment, Loomis remains strangely detached. In "Follow Me Boys," the "public transportation" bit, Loomis comes closest to risk, but even here she focuses on her internal reaction to men's continual propositions on the street, never to the possibility of actual danger.

The cool detachment works fine in the first piece, and even in the second. But by the time Loomis reaches her fifth and final entry it's disconcerting to discover that for the most part she's remained outside and above her material. That's unfortunate, because Loomis is a fine young writer with a solid sense of both rhythm and structure. She is also clearly a talented and able performer. Perhaps money, sex, love, art, and the patriarchy are simply too many weighty subjects to take on at once. Still, Loomis is worth seeing, and worth keeping an eye on.

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

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