THE PAUSE THAT REFRESHES

           I FIRST HEARD the word "menopause" at age 7 while eavesdropping on a hushed phone conversation at my aunt's house. Later, in seventh grade, my class read a story by Carson McCullers about a woman who kills herself during her "change." Disheartening stuff.

           Because it's a topic that, like domestic abuse, still drags the weight of whispers, seeing 25 women talk about it openly in Woman On Fire, a new documentary by local filmmaker Kathleen Laughlin, is something of a revelation. (Go ahead and laugh at the title, by the way--you have the director's blessing.) I wondered if it wasn't tough getting these women "of an age" to pipe up. "I've done documentaries where I had to hold hands and cajole them," says Laughlin, whose past projects include Unwasted Stories, about a garbage burner; Junkie (with Martha Boesing); and My People Are My Home, on Meridel LeSueur. "[This time] there were actually friends of people begging to be in the film...I think because people haven't talked about it, it comes pouring out."

           In a pastiche of animation, nature footage, and dramatized black-and-white scenes from Laughlin's youth, these women let loose as if speaking to their closest girlfriend though most had never met Laughlin before: "I became the world's worst bitch!"..."Waves of paranoia--what will I do, what will become of me?" Hot flashes. A new shot of testosterone. A tense collusion of terror and reclaiming the Inner Ass-kicker.

           Laughlin hopes to get the piece on cable or PBS, but her sweetest dream is to watch it become "a pass-around." "[I hope] women will watch it at home with friends, send it to their mother or daughter or sisters." Indeed, if people don't get tripped up by Woman On Fire's sometimes nebulous spirituality, Laughlin may have an underground hit on her hands. (Kate Sullivan)

           Woman On Fire screens on Thursday, Aug. 1, 7:30, at MCAD,2501 Stevens Ave. S., Mpls.; 338-0871.

           RISKY (SHOW) BUSINESS

           LET'S PUT ON a show! Do kids really still say that on hot summer afternoons? Apparently so, judging by the Lake Street Theatre Club, a group of teenagers from Phillips organized by In the Heart of the Beast Puppetand Mask Theatre (HOBT). Radical politics aside, after 22 years, HOBT's guiding principles still revolve around really bigpuppets, and reclaiming the means of dream-production by any means necessary. Their name, by the way, comes from a poem by Jose Marti, quoted by Che Guevara when he admonished American activists to work in their own communities. Thus, HOBT has always been located in Phillips-Powderhorn, and each summer the group goes about redistributing the wealth of theatrical know-how with the club.

           This summer, the kids are performing The Beat of Lake Street at outdoor venues around the neighborhood and getting around on a big white bus (most recently used by the People of Phillips community group for crackhouse stakeouts). In spite of the lovable blemishes of any high-school play, Lake Street--written, designed, and performed by the teenagers--is a worthy production, and sweetly childlike in addressing heavy issues. At risk of drawing inappropriate comparisons, I'm reminded of a story from Sarajevo: At the start of the war, schoolchildren drew pictures about it; as it worsened, they took to drawing butterflies, trees, and birds.

           About 30 kids, many of them toddlers, showed up for a recent gig in Peavey Park, where sunburned homeless people sat on benches, young men with cell phones stood under trees, and a police car rolled slowly through the green. With a young man off to one side doing voices, keyboards, and percussion, and with a painted backdrop of Lake Street, the show was a montage of scenes using masks, painted cardboard props, and those famous jumbo puppets. "Everyday Magic" looks at a young man's Greyhound odyssey to Chicago and Detroit; a dreadlocked flute player adds a dose of beauty to this otherwise tragic tale of black migration. In "Dog Love," a stray dog meets and falls in love with another stray. He steals food from a meat shop for her, only to have her rounded up by the blue-and-white dog catcher paddy wagon.

           Junior, the 14-year-old who came up with the idea, explains his creative process: "I really like dogs." No other significance? Like, say, neighborhood folks and the police? "Oh. Hmmm. I guess there's a lot of ways you could see it." (Kate Sullivan)

           The Beat of Lake Street runs through Aug 2 at various locations during the day and evening; call 721-2535 for details.

 
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