ODD STAGING, PUNGENT AROMAS
Robert Hurwitt EXAMINER THEATER CRITIC
Tues, Oct. 10, 1995
SAN RAFAEL - Chris Hardman's Sausalito-based Antenna Theater has a long history of staging shows in strange places - on a beach, in a Presidio warehouse, on the streets of Sausalito or all over the Tam High campus in Mill Valley. But a recycling center has to be just about the oddest site yet.
And not just any recycling center. Friday, Antenna opened Hardman's latest walk-through, prerecorded, live-action spectacle - "Skin & Bones / Flesh & Blood" - at the sprawling Marin Recycling Center in San Rafael. As the audience assembled in front of the main building and was fitted with earphones, pungent aromas wafted across the road from the center's pig and goat pens.
Then the massive metal door of the loading bay rolled up. A stagehand switched on a hand-held spotlight. The large, elongated mask of a woman's head appeared, rising above a sheet, tossing and turning as if enduring a bad dream. The soundtrack's blend of music and taped voices kicked in over the earphones. And "Bones" had begun.
For the next hour, the audience followed the story, the actors and a guide with a flag (Hardman on opening night) inside and outside, up and down a few flights of stairs, through various rooms including a kitchen, and past bulldozers and enormous stacks of compacted cans into a cavernous - and ghostly - warehouse. In the eerie darkness of that massive space, "Bones" blossomed into as gleefully grim a Day of the Dead fantasia as San Rafael has ever seen.
Created and designed by Hardman with a typically complex sound design by David Torgersen, and directed by Tori Truss, "Bones" is one part Day of the Dead celebration to four parts satiric cautionary tale and social commentary. Always the most creatively politically engaged of the Bay Area's experimental theaters, Antenna has taken the holiday's traditional memento mori theme and seasoned it with observations about class inequities and immigration issues.
Constructed, as usual, from taped interviews (and available in both English and Spanish), the soundtrack uses the voices of society people and panhandlers, modeling agents and plastic surgeons, INS workers and morticians to tell its tale. Jaunty, celestial and eerie music by Roy Marcom, Larry Pinola, Antonio Zepeda and Picforth sets the tone. Actors in Hardman's large, grotesque, folk-sculpture masks and S. Brooke Cottman's Day-of-the-Dead-figurine costumes - some many yards tall - or wielding intricate rod puppets perform the story.
It's the story of the woman we saw in bed, The Mrs. (a physically expressive Anastasia Coon), a well-to-do housewife obsessed with what time is doing to her looks. The hands of a clock stab and snip at her. A modeling agency passes her over. She's losing her status as one of the Beautiful People.
We follow her on her quest for perpetual beauty through aerobics, beauticians and plastic - and other - surgeons to her (and our) inevitable end. As we do, Hardman, with his usual penchant for pregnant puns, makes connections between the model and the model citizen, illegal immigrants and viruses crossing our bodily borders, surgeons and butchers (flesh and meat), excess possessions and the dispossessed.
The recycling center's enormous bins of cans, bottles and plastic serve as a constant emblem of the waste of The Mrs.'s consumer society. In the end, of course, for all her anger at illegal immigrants, she becomes one herself, crossing over to the Black and White Ball whence there is no return.
That ball, a glorious gavotte of grinning, glowing skeletons - with a sublimely redemptive transformation at the end - is the brilliant payoff for a generally enchanting piece. "Bones" hits a few slow spots on the way there, where the story sags and Truss' choreography could be more varied. But those moments are few, and the visual and other delights are many.
There's the towering plastic-surgery advocate, a woman's face like a three-dimensional version of one of those children's books where you mix and match the parts of different characters - her eyes and nose areas rotating to create various configurations. There's the grotesque consumption of the innards of some beast at the "real" Black and White Ball, gruesomely echoed in a comic dismemberment of The Mrs. after death.
There's the stunning mask of Death himself, and the towering image of newspaper-clad homeless people accompanied by the heartrending voice of a child
"looking for a place to spend the night." There are the fancifully humorous pictures of excess body parts, and the evocative shadows of skeletons cavorting on the walls. The grimly masked plastic surgeons wielding cleavers, and the gap-toothed mortician's description of his trade, are worth the price of admission alone.
This is tongue-in-cheek guignol where the humor and the message mesh nicely in one entertaining, provocative package. These "Bones" rise to the occasion and should rise again and again.
"Skin & Bones / Flesh & Blood"
* PLAYWRIGHT Chris Hardman
* DIRECTOR Tori Truss
* THEATER Antenna, Marin Recycling Center, San Rafael, through Oct. 29 (415-331-8512)
------------------------- ANTENNA THEATER Address POBox 176 Sausalito, CA 94966 Voice (415) 332-4862 Fax (415) 332-4870 An experimental theater company that uses multimedia technology and audience interaction. The country's largest producer of interpretive audio for museums and natural parks http://www.emf.net/~cheetham/gan- er-1.html - size 699 bytes - 6 Nov 95[altavista date]
--------------------------- Chris Hardiman Welcome to the Walkman Speech Delivery System. by Chris Hardiman of Antenna Theater. From: The Cassette Mythos, Autonomedia 1990. From a speech presented by Chris... http://www.k7mytos.com/mythos/ChrisHardiman.html downloaded from alta vista on feb 13 1996