Silence, Cunning, Exile | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Silence, Cunning, Exile


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Lexicon Productions, at the Bailiwick Arts Center.

Based on the life of photographer Diane Arbus, Stuart Greenman's play is everything Arbus's work is not: shallow, uninspired, inhibited, tiresome, shamelessly derivative. Which is too bad, because Arbus's story is as fascinating as her eerie, depressive photos: after a privileged but emotionally charged childhood, Arbus (like her brother, poet Howard Nemerov) sought solace in art, but she found herself only when she began photographing New York's lowest of the low--the whores, transvestites, sideshow freaks, and other outcasts who made up the demimonde.

In Greenman's motionless, emotionally distant, highly fragmented script, the most interesting elements in Arbus's life--the increasingly self-destructive behavior that accompanied her artistic flowering, for example--must share the stage with some pretty banal episodes: her early career doing fashion shoots for Conde Nast, her brief affair with a Time magazine editor, her once-strong, eventually faltering marriage to fashion photographer Allan Arbus. We leave Silence, Cunning, Exile knowing no more about Diane Arbus than when we entered.

Jenny Bacon delivers a superb live-wire performance as Greenman's fictional Arbus, Suzie. More often than not Bacon's talent has been wasted on sweet, likable characters like the young mother in the Goodman's production of Dancing at Lughnasa. In this role Bacon shows she's a woman of formidable power and range. But for all her work and her charisma, she can't make this midget play seem any taller.

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