Stage

Here the world of play and expressionist fantasy is deliberately constructed to counterpoint the authoritative, superego-driven world of adults. So although her parents (Nicolle Hope Liquorish and Danielle Touchette) occasionally float in the background -- at one point literally so, moon-gliding far above the stage with the help of a high-tech aerial conveyor -- the little girl and the troupe live it up. Dolled-up characters somersault in and out of giant-scale skip ropes; cords drop from the ceiling and bodies go from alpha to omega in shapes, leaps, and twirls; banquine acrobats jet and flip from floor to shoulder, eventually stacking up four-people high; Chinese girls play diabolo, their silver-painted wooden spools leaping impossibly high from stringed sticks.

In Quidam we follow the little girl into a world where parents are defied and bodies and objects can fly; but under Dragone's direction and the troupe's shivery execution we're constantly held in flux. We squirm as they begin the impossible, then sigh with relief and delight when it's done. It's not perfect: Dragone gives too much time to the show's clown act, an oddly dressed Italian trio called Maclomas, who specialize in fart jokes. It's possible that after so many productions, many of them operating simultaneously around the world, Cirque's producers are running out of first-rate acts. (Then again, as I kept reminding myself during the show, the circus is for kids, too.) It seems unfair to say it, but the visible safety cords on the trapeze artists made it hard to suspend disbelief. Finally, the floating, round-tummied Buddha seemed a little gratuitous. Flamboyant Orientalisms are out of place here, in the dreamscape of a little girl who needs spectacle and meaning, just like the awe-struck audience around her.

-- Frederick Luis Aldama

Kiss Kiss Kiss
Smackers. By Soon 3. Directed by Alan Finneran. In Washington Square Park, Columbus & Union, May 23 to June 7. Call 558-8575.

"It's a freak show!" yelps the guy in a polo shirt and creased chinos as he drags his two buddies over to the television monitor. On it, two women coat each other's faces in wet red lipstick. Three matching blondes scurry to catch up with their dates, and pause at the big-screen TV before moving on to their meal at Moose's. "Interesting," an English youth-hosteler mumbles before her group turns its back on the display to split a pack of cigarettes.

Smackers, an installation/performance piece in Washington Square Park over the last three weekend evenings, is as much about the cross-section of North Beach that stumbles across the spectacle as the images of intimacy and androgyny that the video screens project. And the assemblage of pressed cotton, black vinyl, and baby strollers is frequently more interesting than the performance. Promoted as "an evocative metaphor for the nature of home vs. transience," the show consists of a large RV surrounded by a square of yellow police tape. At each corner sits a large-screen TV. On two of the screens, couples in matching sleeveless shirts and slicked-back, Dippity-Do hair apply coat after coat of lipstick and then exchange kisses. The kisses start out serious, but then the performers turn their attention to spreading around as much lipstick as possible. At the end of each session, the performers' faces are bright red.

"I guess we aren't going to get to see a blow job," says one man. A young woman complains that the use of two females is annoying and inflammatory. "Would people watch a man and a woman kiss?" she asks, moving on before seeing that the Smackers pairings rotate through woman-woman, woman-man, and man-man -- or noticing the large crowd for the heterosexual couple. Another monitor is dedicated to shadowy video from inside the trailer, on which we see a cameraman filming the schmecking duos as they spin on a pedestal, as if to prove that the video is live. This, along with the carefully visible shadows we could see through the campers' curtains, struck me as protesting too much. The crowd was taking the performance at face value; it's possible that the show is an elaborate ruse, with all the activity existing on tape and the real performance being Soon 3's putting one over on the crowd.

Or maybe not. Despite the accessible, natural setting, the Smackers setup doesn't draw anyone closer to the piece than the invisible buffer that surrounds museum installations. Perhaps it's the cautionary yellow ribbon, the heavy technology, or that sense of the sanctity of art, but everyone keeps a safe distance -- from the art and each other. Sitting for an hour in the park I didn't hear anyone discussing the politics of sexuality or the rituals of intimacy, or exchanging thoughts beyond friendly chatter about dogs. A successful experiment into environmental theater or heteroglossia -- the plurality of voices -- should provoke conversation among its participants. The frustrating thing about Smackers is how firmly the audience stayed safely within their social roles: the curious children, the jaded tourists, the concerned young liberal, and the critic (or art student) taking notes. Yuppies are yuppies, artists are artists, and the man urinating by the tree would like his corner of the park back.

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