Why They Invented Dancing, Umalleniay Productions, at the Chopin Theatre. The best and worst tendencies of Charles L. Mee were on display in two productions last weekend. Anne Bogart's SITI Company blazed in Mee's joyous Bobrauschenbergamerica, which explores the pop artist's work by creating collages of American iconography, both light and dark. Meanwhile, Umalleniay's Mikhael Garver and Jim Hornor have created their own collage out of Mee's so-called love plays: Summertime, Wintertime, First Love, and Big Love (though little of the latter is discernible).
Quite bluntly, when Mee isn't riffing off work created by another artist--whether Rauschenberg or Aeschylus, the source of Big Love--he simply isn't that interesting. His observations on passion, obsession, romance, and infidelity begin to resemble assembly-line fortunes in stale cookies. Garver's muscular staging is certainly inventive, though it would be stronger if some of the repetition were cut and the intermission eliminated. Scenic designers Alison Siple and Andrew Sopko have cleverly converted the Chopin studio into a kind of pop art cabaret. Kate McDermott delivers a solid, grounded performance as Tessa, the sane daughter in a family of drama queens, and John Zinn brings understated charm to James, the young man who's fallen in love with her. But the senior lovers from First Love (Philip Carlin and Julie Mitre) serve mostly as cutesy-pie old folks sitting on the sidelines, which gives Mee's already thin writing an unfortunate sitcom air.