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What do you get when you cross two certified geniuses? Variations on enigma. Mercy is a collaboration between two MacArthur fellows, composer-singer-choreographer Meredith Monk and visual artist Ann Hamilton. Monk, the older of the two by 13 years, was a member of the Judson Church group in the 60s but is better known now as a singer than a movement artist (she performed here last in 1996, in her solo show Volcano Songs). Hamilton has created installations, photographs, videos, performances, and objects (an early piece, Toothpick Suit, consisted of a set of clothes pierced with thousands of toothpicks in porcupine fashion); for this work she did the set pieces and video projections. Said to be "a meditation on the human capacity to both extend and withhold compassion," the 80-minute Mercy is abstract and episodic, scenes shifting phantasmagorically with changes in backdrop, music, and players (eight singer-performers, including Monk and Hamilton). Most striking among the video images are close-ups of faces and an extreme close-up of a printed page that moves across the words and letters as if they were geographic features in a vast landscape. Monk's compositions sometimes resemble Gregorian chant, devotional arias, little ditties an obsessive child might make up, or the dispassionate cries of birds. Rattling, clanking, and knocking sounds occasionally accompany the action, which is minimal: a woman scoots her chair backward; a man approaches a woman in a chair, then another woman walks between them; a man crouches and rocks in silence; a group Motown-shuffles across the stage. The video I watched, taken by a stationary camera some distance from the stage, was too poor to capture details; but I had the impression of a disjointed work that may or may not come together live. Athenaeum Theatre, main stage, 2936 N. Southport, 773-722-5463 or 312-902-1500. Opens Thursday, March 28, 8 PM. Through March 30: Friday-Saturday, 8 PM. $30.

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

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