In So Many Words, Part One: The Most of Shave | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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In So Many Words, Part One: The Most of Shave


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Unfortunately for those of us who endured the 70s they seem to be back--with a vengeance--in everything from fashion to the movies. There was a sort of amoral "anything goes" atmosphere for a time, a rancid smoke from the disillusionment of the 1960s. In Doorika's In So Many Words, Part One: The Most of Shave, directed by Erika Yeomans and based on a Walter Abish short story from his collection In the Future Perfect, a series of deft, spare, oblique, almost filmic scenes illustrate squandered lives, ennui, America's love for uninterrupted space (exemplified by a freshly shaven leg), sexual ambivalence, and drug- and alcohol-induced stupefaction. All combine to illustrate the excesses of the mid-70s.

Wilhelm Hahn's efficient set consists of a single seven-foot plant, which somehow looks stupid, a beige couch, and a fake flagstone bar. Both couch and bar are on casters and can be swung in and out of view by the actors. One entire wall is made of piled-up cardboard boxes painted white, which look jaggedly sculptural in a cubist style. The floor is also painted, in an interesting geometrically patterned circle.

One hears Abish's experimental dialogue throughout the piece, whether in word clusters on tape or spoken by the actors onstage. They interact with one another in a strange, almost unhuman way. People touch but don't make contact and address one another without warmth, as though reciting memorized texts. They don't seem to be thinking and feeling--they seem possessed by some force that has put them in a trance.

Most telling of that alienation is a scene in which Marianne Potje performs fellatio on three men but without ever touching any of them: she rhythmically sucks her finger while each one sighs and breathes in response. In other scenes the men sometimes seem to be one another's lovers, at other times they seem to masturbate, and at still other times they interact with the women in the group. Much of the time the men seem forces of decadence and dissipation, sprawled either on the couch or on the floor, unable to move without great effort.

The costumes, by Andrea Sherritt, are wonderfully evocative. The women's outfits, all in champagne colors but beautifully varied, look like almost-elegant 70s styles, from Potje's fluid pantsuit to Amy Kerwin's rather matronly long skirts to Lisa Perry's form-fitting knee-length dress with a big collar. The three men--Casey D. Spooner, Jim Skish, and Julius Day--act more or less as a unit and accordingly are dressed alike in black biker jackets, boots, and flared jeans with zippers on the legs running from the ankle to the waist and another running from front to back, beginning at the navel and ending at the back seam. The men also periodically wore nylon stockings over their faces. Overall their look was creepy, dark and rather seamy.

At the piece's beginning and end Lisa Perry scrubs the floor, herself, the wall, and the couch and shakes as though with palsy--and the contrast between her aged behavior and youthful appearance is disturbing. Why is she acting old? She doesn't look old, she's merely acting old. Was the intent here to prove that she can "act" to create a disturbing dichotomy? Whatever, the group's point needs to be clearer.

Despite the production's nightmarishly soporific quality there is something oddly fascinating about the ensemble performances: it's as if Doorika wants to encode a deeper reality in a few key moments. One waits for disaster or denouement, but nothing comes (except of course the end of the 70s). The piece never really begins or ends: instead we're caught in a moment that's a kind of hell for everybody. In So Many Words produces a sense of deep regret and distaste--as an exercise in despair, it could have been shortened by half and been just as effective. As a full-length work it is at times numbing to watch because of the repetitions in dialogue and action.

It does successfully illustrate, in a very abstract way, a time and place and feeling: New York in the mid 1970s, according to a press release. It's been said that the 60s were one big party, and that the 70s were like that uncertain time after the party when just a few people sit on a couch and watch the late movie, wondering whether to stay and order pizza or go. The Doorika actors are more than competent--they all seem to possess great focus and individual power. But the piece, like the party that's been too long over, never goes anywhere--and therein lies the premise of the entire production.

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