-- Julie Chase

Love Buzz
St. Valentine's Midnight Masquerade Debauch. Created by Chim Jordon and Dave Normal. At the Jewelry Store, 259 Mission, Feb. 14.

There's theater, that ancient and polite art form wherein you trade cash for a ticket to sit in the dark and watch a handful of people recite lines and pretend to have meaningful experiences that somehow -- via catharsis, empathy, or various other psychological metaphysics -- are supposed to become your experiences. But why does the theater purchased with a square ticket -- even when the action onstage is flawless -- so rarely captivate? In the real world, the smallest thing can thrill. The coiffed theater of Aunt Mildred's beehive; the furtive theater of gang youth silently staking out their turf; the chaotic theater of a Ghanaian funeral. That outside theater almost always involves something intense, amusing, or surprising; why doesn't the indoor version?

That was the question twirling in my brain as I left "St. Valentine's Midnight Masquerade Debauch," a one-night interactive performance event created by Chim Jordon and Dave Normal. This show, the equivalent of real peach after years of canned fruit cocktail, reminded me that the old unprocessed theatricality of the world can still infuse live performance. We approached the large warehouse space at about 10 p.m., and were greeted with shouts and a hail of beer bottles crashing down a flight of stairs. Tumbling after them was a goateed youth pursued by bouncers. He released a cloud of pepper spray and then ran off. "Just hold your breaths as you enter!" said a bouncer. "Everything is under control!" Our nostrils burning, we made our way through several rooms decorated in punk-Victorian style before joining a crowd waiting at the top of a stairway marked "Tunnel of Love." At the bottom of the stairs we stepped through a giant foam-rubber vagina into an interactive space of mythical love creatures and sex spirits -- each intent on engaging the guests in his or her own peculiar reality.

Just past the labial entrance, Dr. Harold Haldol, a balding, disconcertingly believable therapist, offered his red velvet couch for free-love therapy. Though the sign said he specialized in nymphomania, gluttony, and idolatry, he seemed well-versed on all matter of modern anxieties, mixing his pragmatic prognoses with odd poetical insights.

Looking up, we saw an open attic space in which two butoh-esque dancers with unicorn horns performed a slow-motion make-out session. We could hear some hissing and tiny explosions, too, these from the creative use of Pop Rocks. Below them real entrails were strung like gleaming pink crepe paper, all accented with an arrow impaling a real cow's heart. A character who called herself Little Miss Fickle, dressed in pink chiffon and sitting at a vanity littered with cosmetics, carried on a rhyming dialogue about the impossibility of deciding between Tom, Dick, or Harry with people waiting for the bathroom.

Nearby, in a small kitchen covered with tacky centerfolds, a married couple hurled lewd insults and the occasional beer can before making up with each other. "Goddamn, you're a bitch," the man sobbed, "but I love you!" Down one crevice, blindfolded guests were escorted into a bright red meat locker to encounter the "metasensual beast" (the naked, sweating body of paraplegic performance artist/horn dog Frank Moore). A reverential St. Valentine roamed the halls, blessing guests with good love and great sex. You could also pray for love to Venus, a nubile maiden, reclining in a large shell, as her attendants anointed your forehead with perfume. Eleanor Queen of Aquitaine received guests in her court of love, grilling them on their love lives and either punishing them with a spanking or rewarding them with a red rose. In another room, the Oyster Goddess offered her cleavage ($10) or her bellybutton ($5) as a plate for raw oysters garnished with lemon and hot sauce.

Performed by over 70 people, this kaleidoscopic fantasia of postmodern love did not conform to the narrow definition of theater, but it captured the word in its raw essence. Without the traditions and the institutions, the conventions and the glossy programs, this weird show revealed the human imagination's capacity to forge character, costume, and word into wicked, unpredictable entertainment.

-- Carol Lloyd

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