Were All Connected

Both Dog Opera and Word of Mouth descend from the "universal" theme of Search for Signs

Word of Mouth, James Lecesne's virtual homage to Search, uses an almost identical dramatic conceit -- a human satellite dish who "picks up" signals from otherwise disconnected souls and broadcasts them to interested parties onstage as well as to the au-dience. Unlike Search's Trudy, who proudly proclaims her madness, Frankie is not crazy. The people he homes in on are a varied lot, ranging from an elderly widow who recalls her life in colonial Africa to a gay teen-ager who wishes he were Diana Ross. (The latter formed the basis for Trevor, an Oscar-winning short film.)

While these are poignant and entertaining portraits, they seem of a piece with, say, Constance Congdon's. (Or Jane Wagner's.) Writing this, I had trouble remembering how Word of Mouth's Trevor differed from Jackie, Dog Opera's adolescent gay. On the surface they do not appear alike: Trevor is a middle-class boy troubled by his emerging sexual identity. Jackie is jaded before his time, homeless and friendless. But underneath they are both desperate and fragile in the same troubling way and require (in Jackie's case) the supernatural assistance of a reassuring benevolence.

What is notable about Word of Mouth is Lecesne the performer rather than Lecesne the writer. He himself seems the human satellite dish, flashing as he does from signal to signal, shifting and changing and channeling character after character. He is totally and utterly compelling no matter who is coming through, whether it be an elderly woman, the teen-age Trevor, or the street-wise Frankie. He reminds us that we are part of a universe in which "every particle ... touches every other particle," that "whether [we] like it or not, [we're] connected ... like dust." As directed by Eve Ensler, the show was a breath of fresh air. I wish it had been around longer.

Dog Opera runs through Oct. 29 at the Magic Theatre in S.F.; call 441-8822.

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