Karen Finley | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Karen Finley


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I've never felt comfortable watching Karen Finley. Her act is just too angry, her performance style too raw, to be watched dispassionately. But I think that's her point: to speak the unspeakable, to find words and gestures to make the seething emotions just below the surface audible, visible, and absolutely unavoidable. In 1989's We Keep Our Victims Ready, Finley dared to play both sides in an abusive relationship, revealing in her white-hot monologues not only the contradictory emotions the daughter feels toward her father, but also the father's twisted feelings of love, hate, sexual attraction, and self-loathing. We Keep Our Victims Ready was attacked by conservatives during the culture wars of the Bush years, turning Finley into a household name as a member of the NEA Four. It has always struck me as darkly funny that what conservatives found most shocking about this show was that Finley, at one point, smears her nearly nude body with chocolate. Of course, the best way to avoid a message is to complain about the way it's delivered. In 1992's A Certain Level of Denial, which she'll perform at Metro next week, Finley begins by mocking the conservatives' facile critique of her work: she walks onstage wearing a hat and a pair of shoes and nothing else. She then dresses throughout the rest of the show. Finley, like a clever psychoanalyst, has proven herself capable of breaking through any resistance, so that we eventually see the world behind the facade in all its awful complexity. Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 549-0203. November 10 and 11: Thursday-Friday, 8 PM (all-ages show; doors open 7 PM). $12.

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