The Brides | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Rococo Rodeo

at Live Bait Theater

Harry Kondoleon's The Brides is a puzzling piece of work. It weaves around like an epic and sometimes incoherent poem, glorying in its own wordplay, veering with startling speed from pretentious reverie to pragmatic observation, leaving plenty of room for personal interpretation by director, actors, and audience alike.

Its collection of mythic brides present their cases choral style, as nonlinear, labyrinthine fairy tales that present brides as desperate, bitter, or used. There's no room here for the happy bride (and one wonders if Kondoleon believes she can exist); to hear the brides tell it, only the grooms are happy, or at least self-satisfied. The reveries are part of the brides' self-examination, "caught in the solitary confinement of artifice," while the brides' funnier, sharper, simpler observations are directed toward the boorish archetypal groom. "He is indestructible," one wan bride informs us. "Yet he collects guns and knives, which he hangs on hooks over his stereo." Still, each bride embraces the groom as an inevitability, shuddering as he returns the embrace, clutching at him if he refuses it.

Kondoleon's sympathy for the bride seems a touch condescending, his disdain for the groom heavy-handed ("Pressing his stick into her magic hat, he says fuck me, fuck me wild"). It's a commonplace trap when male playwrights decide to be sensitive to women. Not that they should stop trying, it's just that in Kondoleon's case he shouldn't try so hard. On the positive side, Kondoleon weaves such a hypnotizing tapestry of words (aside from the "magic hat" business) that he keeps his audience running to catch up, fully engaged in picking his prose apart to get at the meaning.

In the Rococo Rodeo production at Live Bait, director Kenn L.D. Frandsen has cast five willowy actresses (Michelle Dahmer, Tracy Loudon, Sydney Moore, Sally Poppe, and Joan Ryan) to portray brides spurned, destroyed, or disappointed--but always gorgeous. He arranges them around the stage like statuary to deliver their recitations; it's difficult to tell whether the choice is an ironic take on the bride as ornamentation or merely indicates a lack of imagination. The actresses rely on force of personality to carry them through this long tone poem; all are silky-voiced and unafraid to connect with their audience. Frandsen wisely keeps them as honest as all the posing permits. They're an engaging group despite the terrible makeshift bridal costumes (uncredited), through which one can see quite clearly the brand of bra each woman favors. Perhaps this was a deliberate attempt to make the brides seem vulnerable or bound up beneath their finery, but I found it distracting.

Also distracting is a visit by the devil (Peggy Jo Jacobs), a top-hatted, high-heeled scoffer who pops in to deliver a few scathing remarks to the brides ("How pretty you look in your funeral gown; did your mother make it?") and to set off quite a few sheets of flash paper with a cigarette lighter built into the top of her plastic pitchfork. Ultimately she doesn't have much to say; but then the brides aren't saying anything very insightful either--they're just saying things well, wrapped as they are in enigmatic poetry. This sort of show can be tiresome if it goes on too long. Thankfully this production takes only an hour--just long enough to remain somewhat intriguing--and is buoyed by moments of dry humor, perhaps irony.

Only at the end does that irony become more overt, however. "Look at all the pretty things around you every day," the devil says with a straight face. This bit of grandmotherly advice, coming as it did from a cut-rate Bob Fosse-inspired demon, led me to believe that someone at Rococo Rodeo was pulling my leg, with Kondoleon's help; but upon reflection I'm just not sure why. Or, more important, if I'm really that interested.

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