Niagara Falls: Straight to the Top | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Niagara Falls: Straight to the Top

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Much of the risk that typified performance in the 1970s and '80s has disappeared. Yoko Ono isn't inviting strangers to cut off her clothes anymore, Stelios Arcadiou isn't piercing his skin with fish hooks and suspending himself in midair, and Chris Burden isn't having himself shot. Paula Killen is bucking this trend. Though she never puts herself in harm's way, she turns in her riskiest piece to date with her one- woman tour de force Niagara Falls: Straight to the Top. Portraying a high-strung yet debilitatingly sad apprentice clown with uncontrollable psychic powers and a weakness for all things red, white, and blue, Killen performs for nearly two hours without a safety net. She begins by placing phone calls for audience members (on the night I attended, several women wanted to check with their baby-sitters). And her onstage phone rings unpredictably throughout the evening as random people call in to check up on her (one even called to sing her a love song). She ends the evening by inviting the audience to ask her anything, no matter how personal. In between she performs interpretive dance, sings patriotic medleys (accompanied by the intoxicatingly lush piano playing of Chuck Larkin), hands out gifts, reads our minds, and breaks our hearts. Niagara Falls is Killen's farewell to Chicago; she'll move back to California in the new year. On the closing weekend, performances should be a bit more heartbreaking than usual. Famous Door Theatre Company, Jane Addams Center Hull House, 3212 N. Broadway, 404-8283. Through December 17: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 7 PM. $15.

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

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