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April 22, 1991 - Image 5

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1991-04-22

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ARTS
The Michigan Daily Monday, April 22, 1991

Page 5

IN'

,evie

On the Verge
of a nervous
breakdown
The run of the Basement Arts
production of Eric Overmyer's On
the Verge did not get off to a grand
start Thursday evening due to a myr-
iad of technical difficulties. Open-
ing night, however, is often a
problem for Basement Arts, as it
serves as the production's first full
lress rehearsal as well. So even
though its three-hour running time
and mismatched lighting scheme
most likely left director Richard
Perloff on the verge of a nervous
breakdown, the abilities and enthu-
siasm of the actors managed to il-
luminate the stage even when the
lightboard failed.
The three Victorian explorers,
Mary (Mimi Spaulding), Fanny
&Joanna Hershon) and Alexandra
(Sallie Sills), held on to their own
distinct personalities throughout
their journey through time.
Spaulding held the reigns as leader
of the adventuresome trio. Her per-
formance displayed incredible range
and depth. Her portrayal of Mary
left the audience with a complete
picture of the woman explorer,
rom her strengths to her fears.
Hershon's Fanny served as the
enthusiastic, orgasmic Miss
Manners who, when meeting up
with the Masai and her fianc6 Nicky
(Patrick Beller), simply exclaimed,
"Wow, wow, wow." Hershon's in-
nate acting ability came in handy
when covering the many technical
problems that befell her. Never did
her graceful poise falter, even in the
midst of what could have been dis-
astrous.
Sills' ditsy, thesaurus-thumping
Alex delighted the audience with
her wide-eyed discoveries. She easily
transferred from a Victorian ex-
plorer to a wave-wiping surfer girl
when she landed in the '50s.
It may seem impossible for a
single actor to pull off On the
Verge's eclectic repertoire of male
,characters. Beller proved the span of
his range, however, convincingly
portraying a cannibal (with the per-
sona of his victim Alphonse, from
Alsace-Lorraine), an abominable
snowman, Fanny's grumpy husband,
a chopper-hopping greaser, a super-
power named Mr. Coffee, a fortune- -
telling dragon-lady, a teenage gas
station attendant and, last but not
least, a crooning lounge singer
*named Nicky. Beller reigns as king
of versatility.
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Despite the wide range of pro-
duction problems, the costumes and
props involved in On the Verge were
phenomenal. Costume designer
Kristin Fontichiaro gathered all the
proper accessories to dress the char-
acters through the decades. The set
was as versatile as Beller. A simple
drape sufficed as the backdrop for
ice storms as well as star gazing.
Overmyer's play is so ambitious
in its plot and characters that one
wonders if any theater facility
would have problems producing it.
On the Verge was a mammoth pro-
duction for the Basement Arts to
undertake, perhaps too big for its
britches, but not too big for its ac-
tors.
-Jenie Dahlmann
Gray swims
through past
In spite of his thick New
England accent, his WASPy appear-
ance and his stories about boarding
school, Spalding Gray is not preten-
tious in any way. He talks solely
about himself and his life in his
monologues; A Personal History of
the American Theater at the
Michigan Theater last Friday might
have been more appropriately titled
Spalding Gray's Road to Stardom.
But he enraptures audiences by not
bragging about his life, but simply
explaining it. His manner is some-
times said to be similar to a modern
Mark Twain's or a WASP Woody
Allen's, but it is uniquely Gray's.
His performance last Friday was
different from other monologues
right from the start. While Gray
normally starts his storytelling at a
desk with a pitcher of water and an
outline of his show, there was no
desk or notes, only a microphone and
a plastic cup of water. "It's not, as
advertised, a hilarious Spalding
Gray monologue," he said. "It now
has a different form where I talk."
Gray discussed how he became
interested in his art. "Everything
has to be a story for me to
understand it," he explained. "I
couldn't pass seventh grade math
because I couldn't understand ab-
stracts." He'd get too caught up in
the story of the word problems and
forget about the mathematics.
His scholastic problems most
likely came from his undiagnosed

Gray
dyslexia, although he never blamed
the school system for his dislike of
school and adulthood. "I didn't
want to grow up because I didn't see
any adults in my hometown who
were having a good time," he
explained. But his father sent him to
boarding school anyway, where
Gray first got a taste of the stage.
While many beginning-acting
stories seem cliche, Gray's had its
unique characteristics. During his
first. audition his eyes tricked him
and read two sentences intermingled
together. He got the part immedi-
ately - the play took place in an in-
sane asylum. During a performance
he improvised an imaginary hop-
scotch game and the audience loved
it. He called their laughter a cathar-
sis for him, and decided to seriously
pursue an acting career.
But the life of an actor in New
York city is poverty and
unemployment, and many of his
days were filled with long walks
through the city. "New York made
me crazy and eventually gave me my
sense of humor," he said. His first
audience for his tales was his girl-
friend; talking about their daily ex-
periences every evening was their
only form of entertainment because
neither had the money to go out and
buy a television.
Gray continued on with his
experiences, from '60s experimental
group theater to trying out his ma-
terial on his therapist, before turn-
ing up the house lights and taking
questions from the audience -- a
new technique by the monologuist.
Afterwards, he interviewed a mem-
ber of the audience, showing that
anybody's life can be interesting.
He believes that storytelling has
become a dying art that needs to be
revised. He even teaches a class in

which individuals can determine
whether or not they have the talent
for storytelling. "Not everyone
should talk about himself," he said,
and smiled, a rare reaction from
Gray. He said that a historian once
pointed out to him that the last
artists to leave the Roman Empire
when it fell were the chroniclers.
Although different from the
structure of his other monologues,
A Personal History of the American
was as entertaining as Swimming to
Cambodia and Sex and Death to the
Age 14. But as one audience member
pointed out during the question
period, Gray has monologues about
his life and now monologues about
doing monologues - when will
this become too much?
-Mary Beth Barber
Dancers better
by themselves
Strictly speaking, the actual
dance movements and choreography
were very impressive during last
weekend's BFA thesis dance,
although the movements did not
capture the wide range of capability
I was expecting. When steps were
repetitive or lacked a precise
rhythm, they tended to distract the
audience from the dance itself.
The solo works, however, did
succeed at showcasing the technique
of the five dancers who put on the
concert. The group pieces exuded the
thematic dynamics, shifting the au-
dience's focus away from the danc-
ing style. One of the most dynamic
elements of the concert was the mu-
sical accompaniment.
Deborah Weisbach and Christina
Sears compiled various types of at-
mospheric sounds, suggestive of
easy motion. Sears' solo piece,
"Otherworld," created a fluid at-
mosphere. You could almost hear
the lulling ocean beyond the audito-
rium. The piece's first image struck
the audience - Sears swung freely
on a rope hung from the ceiling, en-
joying a pure freedom of movement.
When sound was manipulated
and stretched beyond conventional
usage, it added a frenzied and wild
quality to the dances. In Christine
Knight's solo, "Aurora," a story-
teller read the fairy tale of Sleeping
Beauty. A driving rock rhythm was
intertwined with Knight's ex-
ploitation of the story. In Knight's

group piece, a short film was fea-
tured, in which the voice over of an
imaginary friend comically comes
to life. Neuman's disturbing distor-
tion of the voices of Bush and other
leaders who were part of the Gulf
War propaganda added to the global
chaos of her group piece.
Pieces in which the music was
too staid, such as Weisbach's
"Across Landscapes," only created a
stagnant atmosphere; that particu-
lar piece didn't grip me, although
Weisbach presented a pretty scene.
In Constine's piece, however, when
sound was missing, the dancing
seemed naked, but effectively be-
came much more vulnerable.
Lights not only set the scene, but
also shocked the audience. During
her solo, Neuman seemed to appear
out of nowhere with each flicker of
the lights, surprising us with each
new pose. Photo flashes glared at
the audience in quick succession dur-
ing Weisbach's solo piece. She was
attacking the audience with her cold
light, allowing us to feel some of
her own artistic self-doubt.
Pieces which drew in the audi-
ence were much more pleasing than
those which simply wanted to pre-
sent their work. Knight and Sears
were the most adept at achieving a
strong stage presence and direct
communication with the audience.
Knight proved her talent in ele-
ments of drama, facial expressive-
ness and sharp dancing skill, as well
as providing all the humor for the
evening. Sears also displayed her
dramatic talent as a poet and story-
teller as she recited her own poetry.
Her words spoke to the audience,
vividly forcing us to enter her

world.
-Caroline G. Shin
Write for summer arts!
If you have some back-
ground or interest in a
form of self-expression
related to the arts, call
763-0379 find out how you
too can express yourself.

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Le c t u r

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Robert Hass
a uthor of:
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The [19 9 I]
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