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Minimal Theater


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To Jack Helbig,

Imbibing in those wacky hallucinogenic mushrooms again, eh Jack? I'm referring, of course, to your gaga review of Goat Island's It's Shifting, Hank [October 14].

Now, I'm not about to slam a group of individuals who are sincerely engaged in what they consider art; they obviously sold you, and everyone is entitled to his/her opinion. Besides, I'm not disputing the ideas behind the work. But to suggest that this quartet is a group of seasoned professionals whose shows are "as moving as the best of Chicago theater" is a tad off base.

You were impressed with, among other things, their crawling about the stage--"we genuinely feel for the performers' genuine pain." If you want theater of pain attend a Pina Bausch performance and watch dancers bloody their feet by dancing on thorny roses. However uncomfortable that may be to watch, there is a control, a stagecraft present. Indeed, whatever one thinks the stage is about, it does involve craft.

And that is sorely missing from this group's agenda. "The dancelike sequences become progressively looser, less mechanical, more painfully human," you gushed. Painfully human, or merely pedestrian? None of them skilled in movement, the performers threw themselves about the space with such careless lack of control that much of the time I feared for their knees. (Just for your info, Goats, wearing kneepads should not take the place of kinesthetic awareness and control, just as wearing seatbelts should not allow for reckless driving.)

And what about acting? The snippets of dialogue taken from Sometimes a Great Notion were performed in such a monotone, it was only Kesey's words that kept me from dozing. Was that the intent? Minimalist theater? Gosh, I guess I'd better read their book in order to understand their "highly idiosyncratic performance language." (Or at least check the Cliff Notes.)

I give credit to any group that attempts something other than another resurrection of Mame. But let's give some credibility to the notion of "Critic's Choice" (awarded the Goats [October 7] by Justin Hayford by considering the level of professionalism as well as intent.

Consider a company like Lookingglass, a group of performers that is versed in movement, acting, stagecraft. Their Arabian Nights was one example that a product can be clean and polished without sacrificing energy, spontaneity, or magic.

Meanwhile, as long as a thematic through-line of "Why are you in pain in such a beautiful place?" blinds Reader critics to such glaring deficiencies, you may just as well ponder this: How much theater does one have to see before one considers this art?

Christopher Max

N. Hoyne

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