Saturday, January 19, 2013

Closing soon: Half Straddle, Jeanine Durning, "Black Latina"


photo by Michael De Angelis
Susie Sokol and Becca Blackwell of Half Straddle
For Seagull (Thinking of you)Tina Satter and her troupe Half Staddle take scissors to Chekov's The Seagull, his letters and other material, stapling slivers of original language to shards of modern speech (in English, Russian and pseudo-Russian). This deconstruction/reconstruction serves up a compact gull in 75 mostly entertaining minutes with electric, charming performances by a small cast--notably Eliza Bent (Masha), Susie Sokol (Arkadina), Emily Davis (Nina) and Jess Barbagallo (Treplov)--as well as the scrupulous arrangement and deployment of sensory delights (Zack Tinkelman's lighting, Enver Chakartash's costumes and Chris Giarmo's sound design and original music). Presented by Performance Space 122's COIL fest at the New Ohio Theatre. Extended to January 26. For complete schedule information and tickets, click here.

Jeanine Durning's inging (2012) occupies a space set up to have the feeling of a college classroom. In fact, as each member of the audience comes in, he or she can take a folding chair and place it anywhere in the room that will afford a decent view of a table serving as Durning's desk. A tall stack of books on this "desk" prop up a small digital point-and-shoot set for videotaping her. We can see the monitor of the recording as she stands behind the desk. Behind her, we see three different pre-recorded videos--side by side by side--that show Durning sitting, talking and gesturing. For 50 minutes, the live-action Durning (her name ends in ing, and she clearly relishes that state of being in continuous process) mainly talks non-stop. And I don't mean taking pauses for hydration (although a bottle of water rests on her desk, and she occasionally handles it) or for sustained breath. Oh, no. None of that. She starts by suddenly slipping behind the desk and just goes for the duration of the time, with all sorts of associations and disassociations, all kinds of vocal blips and repetitions, self-interruptions and self-disruptions pulled into her rapid, auto-replenishing stream of consciousness. "What do you say when there's too much to say?" she asks, at one point. Maybe the answer is that it all just breaks down and breaks out in every possible direction. Yes--if you were wondering--this "choreography of the mind," as she calls it, can be considered dance because her speech has fabulous rhythms and is, in itself, the body working very hard. Ultimately, she can't even maintain her position behind the desk, and her wandering around forces us to twist in our seats to follow. Presented by American Realness at Abrons Arts Center. Final performances today at 4pm and 7:30pm. For information and tickets, click here.

When Black Latina, a 45-minute ensemble piece written by Crystal S. Roman and directed by Veronica Caicedo, started off looking and, especially, sounding like a derivative from the 1970s--think For Colored Girls--my heart sunk a little. Not that I didn't love (and desperately need) Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. But, in 2013, might we be ready for an innovative approach? In Black Latina, we find an ensemble of women of color, symbolically dressed in orange prison garb, sitting or dancing on blocks arranged around the space, each airing her pain and frustrations and observations in pedantic expressions declaimed at high volume--"The media bombards us with ideas of what beauty should be," "You're too closed-minded to comprehend the miracle of being a Black Latina," and so forth. As expected, they aim to speak for the unheard, raise awareness, rally sisters in the audience in pride and solidarity with evocations of family togetherness and the pleasures of traditional food, music and party time. Somewhere along the way, though, I began to see Roman's contribution as indeed something new, supportive and motivating for her community--women of mixed Black and Latina heritage struggling for acknowledgement and respect, not only in dominant white society, but also among Blacks, Latinos and often their own family members who may value light skin over dark. Out of love and urgency, her devoted cast--particularly Judy TorresTeniece Divya Johnson and Jenelle Simone, whose performance styles are detailed, joyful and commanding--really work it out. I'd love to see Black Latina produced in our city schools. These women won me over, and their audience returned the love. Presented by The Black Latina Movement at Teatro LATEA. Closing tonight. For information and ticketing, click here.

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