Art Without Pity

YOU DON'T NEED a telescope to witness a heavenly convergence due to take place amid the arrested decay of the Southern Theatre, site of that annual rite of winter known as the Walker Art Center's Out There series. The 1996 perform-a-rama is especially stellar, with mainstage programming featuring a potent triumvirate of female auteurs--Los Angeles's Linda Carmella Sibio, New York's Anne Bogart, and local heroine Martha Boesing-- who specialize in spectacle, invention and provocation. Forget the kid gloves; these gals poke, prod, and puncture sentimentality, serving up art without pity in addressing how humans exist, coexist, and cease to exist. Rounding out the series is Montreal's dynamic dance-theater duo of Pierre-Paul Savoie and Jeff Hall in Bagne, a fitting, physically charged climax to a month of what should be bravura performances.

In Energy and Light and Their Relationship to Suicide, Sibio summons Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, and Socrates, among others, in a one-woman meditation on suicide and the outside forces which contribute to the desire to die. The work unfolds apocalyptically with the help of several mechanical monsters that self-destruct and regenerate, unlike hapless humans. Representing "archetypal images from deep in my subconscious, [resulting from] my intense trauma as a child," Sibio states, the monsters "were originally 4 feet tall, then 7, then 9. These images are part of a lot of people's subconscious mind, but we don't see them. People who didn't experience trauma don't see their monsters. Normal people want to deny violent, angry things that are part of them; they want to see themselves as beautiful people."

In The Medium, members of Anne Bogart and Tadashi Suzuki's Saratoga International Theater Institute explore the inevitability of virtuality. "I wanted to make a play about what we are becoming, vis-a-vis the technologies around us," explains Bogart.

She approached her subject through questions: "What does this new discarnate [disembodied] landscape look like? How are new technologies changing our psychology? Our relationships? What does the future look like?

"Except for the granddaddy of multi-media, Marshall McLuhan, nobody knew what the impact might be," Bogart says. "He loved to talk [but] toward the end of his life he had a stroke and lost the ability to speak," Bogart explains. "In the play he catapults into the world of television like Alice in Wonderland, holding just a remote control. Every time he changes a program the actors are all spouting back his own theories at him. In the midst of the journey we all get to enter his thinking: He sees the future, he's trying to speak. At the end he has just opened his mouth."

"Eventually we'll enter into television," Bogart continues. "Then what do you do with the meat--your body? That's what theater is all about, the meat, the human body, your memory. The act of making theater is a radical act as time goes by. McLuhan once said, 'There is no inevitability as long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening.'"

Martha Boesing, the revered local matriarch of experimental theater, confronts the second wave of feminism during the late 1970's through a series of monologues in Are My Sisters. A founding mother of the Minneapolis-based troupe At The Foot of the Mountain, Boesing has created five characters who are composites of these movement feminists. They help her recount the time when shelters and rape crisis centers were opened, women's studies courses became part of academia, and many lesbians came out of the closet. "When people talk about how [the movement] failed," says Boesing, "it's like, excuse me, can we get a grip here? It was an amazing thing, [but] now feminism has become a bad word in certain circles."

Boesing's piece reclaims those achievements from their dismissal through revisionist history. "Disappear-ing is one of the worst things we do to human beings. Our culture is good at disappearing anybody who's problematic." Her performance responds "to the disappearing of the incredible energy and revolutionary spirit and risk-taking at the time. It's a remembering of time," she says. CP

Out There/Mainstage at Eight, 8 p.m. $12, January 4-27, Southern Theatre, 1420 Washington Avenue S., 375-7622.

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