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Connections of the Heart

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CONNECTIONS OF THE HEART

at Mountain Moving Coffeehouse

I was worried, going in to see the new lesbian musical comedy that played for one night only last Saturday. Part of me was hoping it would be at least bearable; another was already cringing, anticipating embarrassment.

It's not that I haven't seen worthwhile programming at Mountain Moving Coffeehouse, the nation's oldest women-only performance space. But experience has shown me that the emphasis there has been more on content and intention than on a traditional kind of professionalism. The name of this piece alone--Connections of the Heart--gave me the willies. I kept having visions of flannel-shirted dykes earnestly singing folk songs to each other about sisterhood and wimminpower.

Imagine my surprise--to quote Holly Near--when I found myself actually enjoying Paula Berg's very funny all-women show. It certainly fit the usual Mountain Moving profile: well-intentioned, with loads of lesbian-affirming material. But it was also good. And considering Mountain Moving's technical limitations--high ceilings, small, minimally equipped stage, no stage lighting--that is quite a triumph. Director Karen Gerbig deserves kudos for bringing off this very smooth, very polished production.

Set in modern-day Chicago just a few days before the annual Gay and Lesbian Pride parade and rally, Berg's story concerns a handful of women who serve as lesbian-community archetypes. Lynette, played by Berg herself, is the overstressed luppie who works as hard at relaxing as she does at her corporate image. She's constantly exercising, energizing to self-improvement tapes, and waiting for phone calls from the office. Patty Manning plays Bette, a struggling lesbian playwright and Don Juanita--the eternal flirt, always wisecracking. Mountain Moving stalwart Paula Walowitz is Anna Maria Crystal RainWater Womyn, the broadest characterization. A healer, astrologer, masseuse, and medium, Anna Maria is enraptured with Sister Orna, a nun at the local convent with whom she's carrying on a spiritual dialogue.

Jean, played by Liz Pazik, is a kind of dyke everywoman, and most of the story revolves around her. A singer/songwriter who supports herself as a waitress (a job she's terrible at), Jean is fearful of performing but manages to get herself in the uncomfortable position of headlining the rally's musical entertainment. To make matters worse, her therapist threatens to drop her as a patient unless she comes out to her mother pronto. As if that weren't enough, she's still pining for her ex-lover, who dumped her for a telephone lineswoman and moved to Montana.

The last of the bunch is Blanche, played by Molly Elizabeth Austin, an elfin witch disguised as an irritating, self-involved ACT UP activist and performance-art student from the Art Institute. She's the one who stirs the pot, forcing Jean to deal with her mother, and perhaps casting the spell that brings Anna and Lynette together for one wild night.

Although there's plenty of lesbian insider stuff here--you have to know who wrote The Joy of Lesbian Sex, for example, to get one of the jokes--most of the material is relatively accessible. Couple counseling, co- dependency, new-age-style spirituality, and on-the-job sex discrimination may be concerns with a stronger foothold in the lesbian world than elsewhere, but they're not exclusive to that community.

Surprisingly, considering the musical-comedy origins of Berg's script, the play doesn't provide happy endings for most of the characters. Their lives go on, richer for the experiences they've shared but remaining curiously ordinary. Berg's not out to prove, like some other lesbian feminist writers, that sisterhood is beautiful, just that it's powerful. She pokes lots of fun at lesbian stereotypes and community obsessions.

The individual performances in Connections of the Heart were splendid. Among the standouts were Manning, whose voice was sheer delight, and Pazik. Laurie Lee Moses, better known around town for her ethno-funk performances with MNEMIO and Las Toallitas, provided the musical accompaniment. Shockingly, none of the numbers were particularly folksy; they were more bluesy or cabaret-style. "Unavailable Women Blues," which raucously sends up obsessive, self-destructive crushes, was the biggest crowd pleaser.

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