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December 04, 1980 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1980-12-04

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The Michigan Daily

Thursday, December 4, 1980

Page 5


Still Life '-a new

Still Life With Woodpecker, like Tom
Robbins' previous novels (Another
Roadside Attraction and Even Cowgirls
Get The Blues) contains much that
teaches, and more that entertains. Em-
bedded in an appropriately quirky love
story are four methods for building low-
cost (presumably ecologically sound)
explosive devices, a discussion of the
history and meaning of redheads,
references to the philosophy of Martin
Buber, an explanation of the distinction
between "outlaws" and mere
"criminals," tips for dope smugglers,
environmentalists, and lovers ...
Tom Robbins, it seems, has tran-
sformed the old "novel of ideas" into
something new: the "novel of
novelties." There is little of the or-
dinary in the book. The characters
aren't ordinary-in fact, they are not
recognizably human. The plot is
bizarre, and the structure of the novel is
likewise anomalous-it reads rather
like a counterculture Book of Lists with
a romantic plotline.
REALLY, THE nicest thing I can say
about the book is that its popularity is
not surprising, given Robbins' previous
successes, and not entirely undeser-
ved; this is a good book to read in the
john. But I must point out that there is
little in Still Life With Woodpecker,
apart from certain eccentricities,
which can't be found elsewhere.
The People's Almanac, Ripley's
- Believe It Or Not, and any good comic-
book guide to Western Philosophy con-
tain the same "strange but true" facts,
and offer the same kinds of help and in-
sight as Still Life With Woodpecker, but
more efficiently-with more lists,
notes and asides per page. Robbins' use
of almanac trivia should be justified in
the unraveling of the plot, in the novel's
themes, and in the play of words and
Still Life certainly does have a lot of
plotlines. These include an ex-
traterrestrial scheme involving
redheads, pyramids, and Camel
cigarette advertising, some inter-
hational intrigues, and episodes, from
Tom Robbins' own love/hate relation-
ship with his new typewriter.
But just as Robbins offers quantities
"of trivia as a substitute for profundity,
he confuses mere plot 'complexity with
N TOJ2 and thein''A1bbins' book is
clearly inferior to its (all-too-obvious)
models. The account of the arcane
symbolism on Camel Cigarette packs is
a limp and contrived specimen of
''"Popular Culture Conspiracy Theory,"
M genre created and polished to its most
painful paranoic brilliance by Thomas
Pynchon in The Crying on Lot 49 and
Gravity's'Rainbow. Similarly, Robbins'
'stilted tirades at his new Remington
SL-3 typewriter are genteel and uncon-
vincing imitations of Dr. Hunter S.
Thompson's crazed diatribes against
the telex relay in Fear and Loathing On
the Campaign Trail.
"In handling the theme of Still Life,
("How to make lgve stay"), Robbins
avoids the syrupy excesses of, say,
Kahlil Ghibran. (One suggestion to
make love stay: mild bondage.) But the
persistence of love is also the theme for
John Fowles' Daniel Martin, and Rob-
bins is an emotional and literary
adolescent next to Fowles.
The main characters in Still Life With
Woodpecker are interesting as sym-
bols, but not satisfying or convincing as
human beings. The people in Still Life
are more like comic book characters
and pagan gods. Like gods, each
character has a totem animal (the
woodpecker, the frog, the camel) and a
related heavenly body (the moon, the
sun, "the planet Argon"). Like comic
book characters, each has a too-
frequently-spoken motto ("Yum" or

"0-0, Spaghetti-O") and carefully
defined "powers.,"
somehow superior and "wonderful":
the best drummer, the best butterfly

collector, the best bomber, the best
lover, the most passionate sports fan,
the most beautiful princess. Robbins is
careful to reassure us that these gods
do in fact go to the bathroom, and do.in
fact secrete the appropriate juices
when they make love. But he also hints
that each turd is dainty and inoffensive,
each bubble of saliva and strand of
mucus is cute and tasty; and each
orgasm is infinite in duration,.
prodigious in intensity, and positively
symbolic in its import.
The mood is light throughout the
book, but is seldom hilarious. Robbins
sometimes displays a deft satiric
"If you like babiesso much, have
themyourself!" a woman yelled.
"Right on, sster!" encouraged a
young man in her vicinity. The man
and woman firmly shook hands.
The solution to the overpopulation
problem might rest in such han-
Most of the jokes rely on such a
setup-and all too often, Robbins
telegraphs his puns:
She felt like the gourmet who was
goosed in Strasbourgh. "It's my
pate and I'll cry ifI want to.".. .
Allegedly, Wrangle landed in
Havana in the month of December.
He was surprised to find that since
going Communist the Cubans no
longer observed Christmas. So when
he met Fidel Castro, Wrangle called
him a rebel without a Claus.
Robbins even dares to revive George
Carlin's old innuendo about "walking a
mile for a Camel."
Knowing that, if you're tempted to
read Still Life With Woodpecker, then
go ahead. It's basically a lot of fun in its
way, and is a good introduction (I did
not say "substitute") to Thomas Pyn-
chon's form, and even to John Fowles'
Just don't end with Robbins' pre-
digested eclecticism. Return to the

Shiumping through daiJ

Sitting through a play by a localt
author usually takes the same kind of
dedication as sitting through a
, Michigan Rose Bowl-you're rooting
for the home team but history tells you
that the chance for success is slight.
No More Masks, by the Quiet
Revolutions Theatre Co., is a refreshing
change in the ho-hum homegrown of-
ferings of the Ann Arbor theatre scene.,
It's cheeky, funny, gripping and tear-
ful, but mostly it's Loren Hecht and
Judy Milstein, two University theatre
students who can sing, dance and emote
up a storm.
Hecht and Milstein are the producers
directors and stars of this everything-
I've-ever experienced-in-life-type
revue. Through mediums ranging from
mime to poetry and song, they express
their frustration with social constraints
on individuality. The issues that
dominate their twenty-plus sketches
are fears and doubts about attrac-
tiveness and relationships-"female
concerns," you might label them. But
they're making an appeal for self-
respect and their message is univer-
sal-the fat bodies, baggy sweatshirts
and clowning are only cover-ups for
their lack of it. As the evening
progresses, they alternately laugh and
weep at their self-inflicted masks, ex-
posing themselves in a way that pleads
for empathy, and for the audience to
see a mirror of themselves and feel
BUT HECHT and Milstein have
enough of the MGM musical spirit in
them (Hey, gang, I've got a barn and 50
pairs of tap shoes. Let's do a show!)
to turn out an evening chockful of
production numbers and shtick just for
the heck of it. Sometimes they're just
too silly, as in the musical skit "When I
Grow Up" from Free to Be You and Me,
a dialogue between two toddlers. The
opening sketch, "Candy Girls," over-
doses on cuteness-they spend ten.
minutes tickling the chins of male
audience members and giggling.
Much of the material, however, is
hysterically funny as well as striking a


1 *

Don't be put off by the tutesy faces above. Judy Milstein and Loren Hecht
are the stars of No More Masks, a musical celebration of self playing Thur-
sday through Saturday at the Canterbury Loft. Hilarious comedy and
Hecht's (atleft) vocal and dramatic abilities make it a show worth catching.

lot of haven't-I-lived-through-this-
before chords. A Chorus Line a la Hecht
and Milstein is "A Slim Line," com-
plete with two fat ladies trying to
chomp on Mounds bars between counts
of "a 5,6,7,8!" "At the Ballet" becomes
"At the Deli," "Hello 12, Hello 13, Hello
Love" is transformed into "Hello Thin,
Hello Pretty, Hello Love," and, they
admit their "one singular obsession" is
, eating Sarah Lee cakes.
But the same issues that Hecht and
Milstein laugh at are the subjects that
give them the most emotional pain.
They reveal both the humorous and
disturbing sides of life in their work. Af-
ter watching these women confess and
poke fun for two hours, we feel that we
know them intimately. They even in-
cluded a skit called "Session With a
Psych" where they explain the mental
games they play with men and in their
own minds.,
More Masks are also some of its finest
dramatic moments. With a display of

impeccable taste (pardon a little
critic's bias), Hecht and Milstein have
chosen three songs by Stephen Son-
dheim to perform as part of their dozen
or so vocal selections. Sondheim is one
of the few composers of musical theatre
(with him it's not musical comed)
today who can write songs above the
level of mundane or insipid. (Come on,
after the eight or ninth chorus of "Day
by Day," you've got to ask yourself,
this is art?).
The sharply' cynical "Ladies Who
Lunch," about the life of suburban
matrons, and "Every Day a Little
Death," Sondheim's theme of the
married woman's life, provide a great
opportunity to be bitterly self-indulgent
and to philosophize about the pitiful
sameness of conformity.
The intimate nature of No More
Masks not only gives a good deal of in-
sight into the emotional makeup of
Hecht and Milstein, but it also provides
an opportunity to scrutinize their talent.
as performers relatively free from ob-

Tuesday night, the crowd at Rick's either ti
American Cafe was charged with the bers typ
presence of Duke Tumatoe and the All backgrou
Star Frogs. I do not mean charged sim- woven cr
ply in the sense of energy level of The point Du
Duke's performance; I refer also to an boyant h
outrageous $3.50 at the door. This is aroundt
quite a prodigious sum, considering the hand, a d
fact that about one-third of the bar with stra
could not see the band. The set-up it does h
flanked both sides of the stage, for a "H
inhibiting view and dance floor alike, rapping o
and I hope that before Mr. Tumatoe's last, the1
return his roadies will have learned a is flipped
lesson in artistic ethics. tight onc
The first set was disappointing, a climax.
usual pattern for Tumatoe and Co. over Duke res
the past five years. He started with too nocently
mellow rhythm and blues which bored
the crowd into another round of drinks h
cursing their wasted $3.50. I say "too"
mellow because the R & B that
Tumatoe plays does not utilize the rap-
port with the audience which is his for- TONI
te. After a cute inside joke with the AN
band laughing at a clock (say What?!)'
Duke did manage to whip the crowd in-
to a quasi-frenzy that, however, pales
alongside his later sets. w s
IN THEIR -FINAL two sets,
after a quick change of El
guitars, The Frogs went wild and took
Rick's with them. Songs like "I'm Gon-
na Tie You Up," "Red Pepper Hot;"
and "Get Loose" during group-
participation time did exactly what
they should-that is, got everybody

with the real Turmatoe

ty iiie
struction. They don't even have a
chorus to hide behind. (Gee, whatever
happened to the barn and the tap
shoes?) Who needs a chorus, anyway,
with Loren Hecht around? It would only
get in the way of watching her honest,
subtle performance and her compact
body which looks as if it was made for
tough and tumble play but is sur-
prisingly graceful. Her voice has a
richness that . envelopes the
listener-God does Hecht know how to
sell a song! Her manner of speech is so
straightforward and so direct that wat-
ching her onstage is like sitting 6 inches
away from her. She projects an in-
timacy that feels so
natural-unassuming yet engrossing.
Judy Milstein, on the other hand, is so
wrapped up in the business of being
cutesy that she never loses her
"mask." As she explains during the
confessional "Sessions With a Psych,"
her way of getting attention is to make
people laugh at her, and even on stage
this pattern continues. The virtuous
silent movie heroine, the caustic mid-
dle-class matron, the infatuated young
woman-each character is played with
a self-congratulatory smirk. Under this
gimmickry lies a fine commedienne
and a potent singer, but Milstein needs
a tighter directional hand to tell her
when to cut the shtick. In No More
Masks she doesn't have this third eye,
and her performance suffers from her
Both Hecht and Milstein are theatre
department black sheep. In the past six
months they've appeared in nary a.
University production, working instead
on various off-the-wall theatre projects
in Ann Arbor and in No More Masks.
Bravo for their rebelliousness. It's hot
the "We Shall Overcome" of the
dramatic world, but it's arresting and
Every FRI &
At 1200 midnight
the story of
a woman and
her decision to
be different
(G) wU
An exceptional work.With her
stubbornness and sincerity she
reminded me of a young
Katharine Hepburn "Rex Reed
THURS FRI--710900

SAT, SUN-1:30, 3:20, 5:20
7:10, 9:00
Sat, Sun $1.50 tit 2:00
5IhAveaiLber 7197
7:00, 9:25

ght, hot, or loose. These num-
pically start with a soft-line
and that peaks into a tightly-
rescendo of acid rock. At this
ike takes over with his flam-
hard-core guitar as he walks
the bar, fingering with one
rink in the other. His obsession
Inge hats goes a bit too far, but
elp break up the song enough
ow do you feel?," with a little
on the side for the audience. At
hat gets thrown, a pick or two
to the crowd and the band gets
e more for a jam into the final
The crowd erupts, to which
sponds: "Listen here," and in-
begins the next ascending
iC ann arbor
ni cooperative
GHT oresents TONIGHT
7:00 & 9:00 AUD. A
liot Gould, Bibi Anderson,
Max Von Sydow star
Admission: $2

series of chords that ultimately ends in
another standing ovation. Their two en-
cores at Rick's were sufficiently
exhausting for the musicianl and even
the most die-hard rockers.
It has been alomst five years since
Duke and The Frogs have played Ann
Arbor. In the meantime, they have
taken their talents around the country,
and have gained a cult following in
many cities. In' Michigan, Grand
Rapids, Lansingand, dare I say, Ann
Arbor, have all awakened to the

technical skill and "refined" theatrics
of this man who hails from Champagne,
As Duke says, he is "A nuisance and a
menace, an insult to your intelligence, a
rumor in his own time, and a legend in
his own mind"-but his "modesty" is
on a par with his capabilities as an en-
tertainer. So hang on to those
"Tumatoe Tuff" guitar picks, kiddies,
breath deep, think of your mother and
wait, for Duke will be back.


TONIGHT A Musical Classic Returns to Ann Arbor:
Soph Show 25th Anniversary Presents
Dec. 4, 5, 6 at 8 pm
in the
Tickets $4 & $4.50 at Michigan Union
or of the door. 763-1107

Adapted from Truman Capote's novel, this film tells with taste and sensitivity
the story of two midwestern men who brutally slaughter a Kansas family. The
revenge that society ultimately enjoys against the killers makes for a power-
ful, harrowing cinematic statement. Cinematography by Conrad Hall adds
realism.Filmed on location in the town where the crime was actually com-
mitted. By the director of Looking for Mr. Goodbar and Blackboard Jungle.
7:00 & 9:30 LORCH.
Friday: BOGIE IN BEAT THE DEVIL (written by Capote).
Saturday: ANNIE HALL by everyone's favorite hedonist.
Sunday: FLAHERTY AND MURNAU'S TABU (South Sealove)
CINEMA GUILD You'll find us lurking at Larch

presents the
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 5, 1980-7:30 pm

The Films
"The Man Who Came to
D inner" (1942)
eelhe Nutcracker"(95


r - q I N:P-F -

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