SCREAMING TO BE FREE FROM THE ICON TREE
at Beat Kitchen
August 5, 12, 19, and 26
In her multimedia piece Screaming to Be Free From the Icon Tree, performance poet Kristin Amondsen seeks to throw off the shackles of modern icons and live a free and unrestrained life. These icons have been painted (by Amondsen and Shelly Aldrich) on an "icon tree," a sort of doorway at center stage that has five window shades attached to it. The shades are pulled out when needed to reveal paintings of what Amondsen sees as oppressive icons.
The first is a clown with a Bozo hairdo; the second is a plump little girl with sausage curls and stains on her dress from the ice cream cone she carries. The third is a gun-brandishing soldier with puppet strings attached to him; the fourth is a nude woman sitting with her legs spread, a fetus painted over her womb; and the last is another nude woman, surrounded by flames that seem to come from her body, which is covered with scars and bruises shaped like hands. We also hear bits of sound from The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings, The Flintstones, Gilligan's Island, and so on--all childhood favorites, except for the Hill/Thomas hearings, which are, I guess, a favorite target for iconoclasts.
Amondsen then enters through the icon tree and begins a poem about a woman victimized by the forces of socialization--be they television, a "freeze-frame of icons which told her what was wrong," or school, where they "tell you what is right and tell you what is wrong." In the final analysis "She is a puppet crafted." The poem sounds like a Sociology 101 class simplified, and comes off as a sort of angry pop song, especially when Amondsen recites the lines "She screams, 'Love me, let me be. Love me, let me speak. Love me, let me free. Love me, respect my space, or get me out of this place.'"
Amondsen's language is simple, with a strong rhythmic flow helped along by the heavy use of repetition. In Screaming to Be Free From the Icon Tree, her thought process is simple--like her language--but it's also shallow, powered by emotions so strong they prevent a fair analysis of her subject.
Amondsen's pain is genuine, and works well in two segments that seem based on events from her childhood. In "Admissions of the Good Girl" she recounts bitter memories of a brother who always jumped off the seesaw when he was on the ground, leaving her to come crashing down, who filched ice cream from the freezer and blamed it on her, who started drinking when he hit puberty. She was always the good girl, yet he was the one who received her parents' affection. "And you wonder why I didn't like you very much," she repeats throughout. "Red, Yellow, Green" explores a woman's inability to express herself because of her relationship with a painfully cruel stepmother. During these two segments the image of the plump little girl hangs down. But the woman in the poems, who corresponds to the little girl, seems very real, not an icon at all. On the other hand, the stepmother and wild brother are perfect icons, archetypal and omnipotent.
Throughout the piece Amondsen has trouble clearly defining her icons. Sometimes the images represent her persona, and at other times they represent the establishment. Sometimes she sympathizes with the feelings they represent, and sometimes she wants to destroy what they represent. The TV sound bites between segments seem flimsy extensions of her icons, as if she means to support her assertion that these are powerful and prevalent.
When the clown hangs down, Amondsen wears pearls and a flashy 70s-style polyester outfit and mimics Ethel Merman singing "Love Will Keep Us Together" and "Show Business." When the pregnant woman hangs down, she unbends a hanger and angrily recites a poem about male domination. When the woman surrounded by fire hangs down, she warns men to keep their hands to themselves. When the soldier hangs down, she lampoons a callous "traveling pork-bellies salesman" who is interested only in himself and doesn't understand why women are angry.
Each one is a stereotype, but not necessarily an icon. Amondsen does succeed at painting a portrait of an angry victim, whether it's women in general or a single lonely little girl. But she has no generosity or compassion for the oppressors, although she often admits rather unconvincingly that "they're not all that way."
In the end, wearing a light slip that highlights her vulnerability, Amondsen dances a tender and tentative waltz with Terry West, a young man dressed in bow tie and tails. At first she refuses to dance with him, then she tries to and cannot. Finally, once she's able to let go and get in the rhythm, they waltz in circles around the stage. It's the most poignant moment of the evening, but unfortunately it comes too late. An admission of vulnerability in the beginning would have made this piece stronger and more appealing.