In Other Words | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader
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IN OTHER WORDS

Theatre Praxis

at Facets Multimedia Center

It seems that the underlying messages of the four selections that make up Theatre Praxis's evening of short plays, "In Other Words," are that heterosexual males are repulsive--even if they were once homosexual females--that gay men (especially dead Asian ones) are saints, and that gay women aren't always angels. We also get to hear a young black woman celebrate her own "uniqueness and individuality" by complaining about "America, the Constitution, emancipation," verbal sexual harassment, impertinent public servants, the tedium of working for a living, the folly of sending black children to white schools, and the injustice inherent in the fact of bottled European water when there is no bottled African water. If there were any trace of self- directed humor or irony in this material, "In Other Words" might have made a decent rebuttal to the Rush Limbaughs of the world, but most of the playwrights or directors here don't seem interested in producing any laughter that doesn't support the attitudes expressed.

A possible exception is playwright Claudia Allen in Change. On a frosty morning in a small rural Michigan town, two strangers wait for a bus that will transport them to the freedom of the Big City. As they chat, it emerges that the young hometown woman is a lesbian and that the married city-dwelling young man was her female lover in high school. The woman regards her former lover's sex change as a betrayal of all they once held dear, but the man reminds her of the night they were caught together in a parked car by a band of hostile heterosexual males: "Nobody has raped me since I became a man," he says. The woman remains unconvinced, however, and refuses to sit by her former companion on the bus.

Allen's play presents it arguments in an honest, nonjudgmental manner that's enhanced by the sensitive performances of Elaine Carlson and Jack Prather. We may agree or disagree with the characters' decisions, but we cannot escape the underlying truth that ours is a complicated world and each human being must choose how best to live in it. Unfortunately, this unprejudiced candor is not apparent in the other three plays.

Lorraine Bahr's The Ivy on the Stones examines an ambiguous incident--while a group of gay women listen to someone tell a misandric story, one distraught female slaps another halfheartedly--from several different viewpoints. None of them sheds any light on the characters' motives, however--seeing an action from a different visual angle doesn't necessarily render it more comprehensible, nor does a psychobabble assertion like "She stopped my voice!"

Tommy Scott's Forbidden Fruit reads like a story from True Gay Romances: Cory, a lonely opera buff who loves Puccini's Madama Butterfly, meets Ty, an Asian drifter, in a bar. It's love at first sight, and though their perceptions of the relationship are often diametrically opposed, they proceed to live happily ever after--until Robert, a belligerent heterosexual male freaked out by the discovery that his best buddy is gay and shocked by stories of gays and hamsters, discovers Ty in an alley playing with the adorable kitten he and Cory have adopted. Ty is murdered, Robert is unrepentant, and Cory is left with his Madama Butterfly records, which he declares he'll never play again.

The premises of both these plays could have inspired Rashomon-like explorations. But neither one seems anything more than a sketch for a later play--or screenplay in the case of Ivy, since the many scene changes all but require cinematic treatment if they're not to distract us from an already confusing story. Scott's rosily romantic narrative harbors the vaguely racist stereotype of the exotic ethnic as icon and martyr--an assumption already debunked for all time by David Henry Hwang.

Of course, when it's your slap or your late lover it's different. The aura of personal experience that hovers around these two vignettes is nothing, however, compared to the one that dominates Dominic Taylor's Sound Check, which boils down to a 20-minute "let me tell you about my day" harangue. Holly Hancock, a talented newcomer who deserves better roles than she's been getting this season, does what she can with the sound bites that make up this monologue.

Theatre Praxis purports to present "diverse perspectives" from "positions outside the mainstream," but ultimately "In Other Words" simply addresses a group of "others" whose views are even narrower and more parochial than those of the mainstream the troupe seems to despise.

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