Cédric Andrieux. The French have good words for many things in life. Amuse-bouche, for instance, means a small bite a chef offers to titillate your lingual receptors. The French director/choreographer Jérôme Bel knows very well how to translate minimal sound bites and movement into a substantial feast. In 2008 the Live Arts Festival presented Bel's Pichet Klunchun and Myself, a brilliantly deconstructed conversational duet. Since, Bel has directed dancer Cédric Andrieux in a one-man lecture/demonstration constructed over a two-year discourse about Andrieux's 20-year dance career. Now 33, he danced in the Merce Cunningham Dance Company from 1999 to 2007.
Standing in sweatpants, T-shirt and white-stockinged feet, next to a backpack that contains "the famous [Cunningham] unitard" and the men's dance belt which "hides nothing," he begins a slow, low-key self-introduction. When he shows us some moves from his pre-Cunningham career, the Limon technique he studied comes out in the dramatically stretched arc of his arm. He changes (offstage) into the unitard to reveal Cunningham's astonishingly difficult method of teaching a dance phrase. His dance of a few phrases from Trisha Brown's Newark, provides the most fascinating revelation. Face relaxed, upper-body loosened and released from Cunningham formalisms, he looks like a different person.
His daringly introspective and self-deprecating monologue dissects his emotional backpack as if it were a frog in biology class. Yet it is so soft-spoken and filled with bon mots, you leave hungry for more.
- Merilyn Jackson
The Play "Ben." This much seems certain: On the day the Declaration of Independence was signed here in 1776, if our nation's most notable founders had had the fictional conversation they have in The Play "Ben," we'd all be watching the BBC fulltime while grazing on crisps and Cheshire cheese.
Richard C. Dalton's new play, staged by the Historical Theatre Acting Group, has them meeting for a final Declaration once-over - a last-minute editing session, sort of - at Ben Franklin's house. What follows is circular, tedious, repetitive chatter that rings especially false given the characters involved.
Early on, Jefferson (Gavin Young, unremarkable in the role) tells Franklin (Michael Powell, suitably portly) that, in effect, the need for American control may overwhelm the acquisition of freedom; Franklin seems to reject that. A half hour later, he argues it forcefully. (It's hard to tell what side these folks take.) At the end, Franklin, finished being lecturous, does get a nice scene with one of his two slaves (Caesar Gartei and Don Newton, alternating), whom he later freed.
But along the way, he is an insufferable metaphor-spouting machine, and the others are not much better. They diss their women, and when Abigail Adams (Colleen O'Brien, forced to speechify) walks in, their laid-on charm seems entirely hypercritical.
They sweat, as some really did, over the fact that slaves will not be free. (They sweat, even though they own them, except for John Adams.) They lament that women will not be free. They regret that Indians will not be free, or enjoy the return of their lands. With 2010 hindsight, they herald the day some of that will happen. I was expecting them raise LGBT issues, but I guess that's in the sequel.
Astonishingly, Ben Franklin asks - an hour into the 95-minute conversation - just what this Declaration is supposed to do. Holy musket! Has no one yet considered that? Then he sends the document along to the delegates for their John Hancocks (Rocco Amato). Through it all, they never change a word. My kind of editors.
Droit de Seigneur. The play's title refers to the medieval "right of the lord" to take the virginity of any female under his rule on the night before she marries. This notion of entitlement is extended in Paul Parente's play to cover general arrogance and privilege.
So: Two guys walk into a Wall Street restaurant. We're already there, drinking wine, eating grapes and cheese and crackers (provided with the ticket). They get the best table (the one onstage, natch). Italian waiters Roderigo (Nick Martorelli) and Pietro (Jerry Puma) have already set it with great style.
Larry (Ben Powell) is determined to celebrate their "bonus day" in the most ostentatious way possible; Curtis (Derick Loafmann) is not so keen on this overpriced rare steak and red wine meal, but is easily badgered into compliance by alpha dog Larry. Their conversation is about how class - determined by money - will be the only thing that matters in society; religion is for deluded suckers and democracy will be dismantled by venture capitalists. The bill is staggering. The older waiter refuses their tip (motivation noble but unclear).
Director Aaron Oster has found some amusing touches (religious organ music accompanies the decanting of the wine). The play never quite makes its obvious point, and we wait in vain for a dramatic turn of events at the end.
- Toby Zinman
A Lesson in a Dead Language. Adrienne Kennedy, whose best known play is Funnyhouse of a Negro, creates surreal stage images that can be as powerful as they are mysterious. This tiny one-act (less than half an hour), "A Lesson in a Dead Language," is so mysterious that you're likely to leave saying, "What?"
Seven girls, all in uniforms, with white ribbons in their hair, sit with their backs to us in a classroom. Their teacher (Anne Rossman) wears a white dog mask. Each time the girls stand they reveal increasingly large blood-red spots on the seats of their skirts (costumes by Lindsey Burkland). They speak, sometimes in unison, sometimes not, about menstruation: "I am bleeding, Mother." This onset of "womanhood" has something to do with Caesar's murder, with lemons, with Calpurnia, a "pinnacle" and the death of the white dog.
In Kennedy's world, the condition of being female is always punishable, and the "dead language" of the classical education apparently reinforces this patriarchal situation. The girls are first beaten by their teacher with wooden yardstick, but then are supplied with rulers with which to beat themselves.
Director Ilana Vane has created a precise and dramatic stage picture, although whether the image conveys anything other than a peculiar and unpleasant image is a question to be asked.
- Toby Zinman