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Terry Galloway

at Randolph Street Gallery

February 9 and 10

Few experiences are more unsettling to me than watching a performance everyone in the audience is thoroughly enjoying--except me. Such was the case with Terry Galloway's solo performance piece Out All Night and Lost My Shoes. While everyone around me laughed up a storm, I sat stone-faced, entirely put off by Galloway's rather obvious material, persona, and performance style. It's quite evident she's a skilled performer, solidly in control from start to finish, paying careful attention to pacing, making the hour's worth of stand-up comedy, personal anecdotes, and poetry seem to fly by. Her work simply did not appeal to me or engage my imagination.

For much of her time onstage, she seemed to work the crowd like any stand-up comic--worse, a stand-up comic very impressed with herself. After almost every punch line, Galloway inserted a short laugh, as if her ideas were spontaneously springing to mind and making her chuckle. But the laugh was entirely forced and nervous, making her "spontaneity" seem cheap and false.

And some of her jokes are downright offensive. She laments, rather tongue in cheek, her three handicaps: she's "queer, deaf, and a woman." But paradoxically she tells an inordinate number of jokes about handicapped people. For example, she tells us that at a summer camp for handicapped children she won the swimming competition because she "was the only one who could do much more than float." The laughter that this joke elicits is cruel, no matter who's telling it. One of Galloway's themes is an indictment of our culture for its callous and dismissive attitude toward "minorities." "People love their freaks," she reminds us a half a dozen times. It seems to me that Galloway is guilty of the same offense.

Galloway's piece is full of angst. She portrays herself as a victim, a "medical accident" (her hearing impairment was brought on by prenatal drugs given to her mother). She continually tells us that she is afraid of everything and eventually likens herself to an African "native" exploited by intrepid British explorers. She seems to revel in her misery, to parade it around the stage with embarrassing gusto. I am not denying the reality of her life experience. I have no idea of the suffering she might have been through. But the kind of hyperbole she uses to examine that suffering is unsuccessful satire that trivializes otherwise powerful material.

Despite the several original poems in the piece, Galloway's structural sense is disappointingly unpoetic, often sapping her images of any weight. She tends to tell us things two or three times. She tells a story, for example, about a childhood visit to a natural history museum. In a glass case she saw a stuffed rabbit, and hidden behind a tree, a stuffed fox waiting to pounce. This image of artificially suspended danger is potentially interesting. But then she recites a poem about the image that does little more than restate what we have just heard, only on an obvious, "symbolic" level. The poem is flat because it simply decodes the image; the story is robbed of any ambiguity.

Once in a while Galloway resists the impulse to decode. Late in the piece, she tells the story of her mother, pregnant with her, being given a shot by a doctor and then left alone in the room. Her mother feels her feet turn cold, and the coldness slowly spreads upward until it reaches her heart. Finally she rings for the nurse, and while the nurse stares helplessly at her, all that her mother can think is: "I want the windows to be open." She can say nothing. Galloway doesn't resolve this image but lets it resonate, creating one of the evening's few genuinely moving moments.

As a performer, Galloway is anything but subtle; her energy is nearly manic. Her characterizations are huge--she pulls big faces and exaggerates emotions, as if she were playing to a football field. Her presence is unsettled and unsettling. The only time that this style works is when she does an impression of herself as a ventriloquist in an insane asylum. This genuinely funny scene is hysterical in both senses of the word, and her manic energy suddenly serves the piece. Much of the rest is merely strident. Instead of feeling welcomed into the piece, I felt as though it had been forced on me.

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

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