Writer-performer Barrie Cole creates wonderfully contradictory characters at once playful and inhibited, verbally dexterous and inarticulate, intellectually strong and emotionally vulnerable. In the first of three monologues on this program, "Gasp," she launches into a formalist deconstruction of the language worthy of Gertrude Stein, based on counting to 100, only to have her prose poem shatter to bits when the word "nine" triggers a series of memories about a trip to India. Suddenly we see Cole's linguistic brilliance for what it is, just another defense mechanism. In the second piece she begins with a fairly straightforward text, a witty monologue--performed by Eric Ziegenhagen--on how to have a bona fide conversation, only to smash the language into a million ear-pleasing but useless pieces by the end. In top form on the final monologue, "You and Caroline," Cole intertwines her love of wordplay so tightly with her gift for storytelling that I couldn't tell you whether the piece was about the adventures of a depressed but mischievous 11-year-old in her grandmother's Miami condo or about the limits of language, exemplified by this tongue-tied but rage-filled prepubescent, shipped off to her grandmother's while her parents get a quick divorce. Not that it really matters. The joy of Cole's work is how comfortable she is in both worlds, the world of the cerebral poet and the world of the emotionally astute entertainer. Live Bait Theater, 3914 N. Clark, 312-409-2674. Through December 5: Fridays and Sundays, 8 PM. $10.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Eric Ziegenhagen.