The Story of Miyo
Miyo in the Middle. Choreography and text by Kimiko Guthrie-Kupers. At Theater Artaud, 450 Florida (at 17th Street), April 23-26. Call 621-7797.

Dance creates mood and elaborates emotional and social nuance; it doesn't do plots. Without liner notes, it's hard to say what's going on in the classic story ballet Giselle, for example, beyond the fact that something exciting and then terrible is happening to our heroine, and that a couple of men, often seen milling about, are probably to blame. But it doesn't much matter that we don't know what's causing Giselle's histrionics -- she's still sublime.

Many choreographers want clear stories anyway. Tired of sacrificing the clarity of drama for dance -- magical or not -- they've added words to their choreography. Local choreographer Kimiko Guthrie-Kupers' Miyo in the Middle, at Theater Artaud late last month, works this difficult genre. Guthrie-Kupers' narrative, told by Miyo, the story's protagonist, is spare and understated, with only occasional lapses into the polemic and cliche endemic to texts by choreographers. Her script pushes the plot along while allowing the dancing, accompanied by Bob Frank's sweet yodeling and Monica Pasqual's dirge -- a resonant, multilayered score played on drums and strings -- to unfold mood and conflict.

Miyo in the Middle recounts Miyo's life with her parents -- a two-timing cowboy and a Japanese-American he met while working as a guard at an internment camp. ("Would you talk to me if I put down my rifle?") The father's presence throughout Miyo's childhood is erratic; eventually, he abandons her and her mother for his other family. These events shape her story but also blur it with undigested fury. Yet when Guthrie-Kupers restrains Miyo's anger and sticks to the what and where, she gives the dancing room to deliver compassionate insights into the characters' transgressions.

Miyo's father first sees her mother as she's advancing with two other women in low, fated lunges. When they stand up tall, open their mouths wide, and stretch their arms in a gawky shimmy, you feel the tragic weight of their fun. The mother catches sight of him standing guard in his watchtower, and waves. With a face that dances as much as her body and a body that acts as much as her face, Ching-Chi Yu expresses shocked innocence. When he sidles up to her, she's too happy and scared to breathe or bend. Soon enough, she's pregnant and disowned by her family.

Late in the play, after he leaves her, she shoots herself. Miyo is torn between these two absent parents, and the full ensemble of dancers crowds the stage's diagonals with rolling, tumbling, and falling, amplifying a life -- Miyo's -- crashing toward enormous loss.

-- Apollinaire Scherr

Kvetch. By Steven Berkoff. Starring Robert Mackey, Lol Levy, Priscilla Alden, Eloise B. Chitmon, and David Acevedo. At Exit Stage Left, 156 Eddy (at Mason), April 16-May 2. Call 602-4387.

The beautiful subtitle scene in Annie Hall, where Annie and Alvy lacquer their mutual anxieties with insipid comments about photography, could have inspired Kvetch. The subtitles in Annie Hall tell you what the characters are feeling; in Kvetch, the dull social protocol freezes to let the characters holler their anxieties at the audience. It's unnerving. (I suppose both are homages as well to O'Neill's rather more serious use of the device in Strange Interlude.) Kvetch ran for several years at the Odyssey Theater in L.A., where I first saw it, and I think the show succeeded mainly because the yelling is so outrageous. It's not because of the story: A Jewish salesman with a nagging mother-in-law invites a lonely business acquaintance over for dinner, and nobody knows how to act. The wife is afraid her meal is no good; the guest isn't even thinking about the food; the mother-in-law keeps farting. Afterward, the husband and wife have sex. Their anxieties are typical household kvetches you read about in magazines, the kind of worries middle-class (especially Jewish) people are supposed to have, and the kind of nonsense most people eventually get over.

The play is appealingly tasteless. During sex, Frank and Donna both talk to the audience; when Donna straddles Frank she says, "I wanna be raped," and details her fantasies about the garbage men who come noisily by in the morning. Her orgasm, which we get to watch, has less to do with Frank than with these phantom garbage men. Then it's Frank's turn. The dinner guest, Hal, makes an uninvited appearance in his fantasy, and Frank's orgasm also has very little to do with his wife. These scenes are shocking and funny; but where they lead is finally disappointing. Donna leaves Frank for another man and tells him she's learned not to worry. "You quit kvetching?" says Frank. "How?" Donna: "By doing what I want and letting the guilt go fuck itself." Not exactly A Doll's House.

Teatro Shalom revived this play; they're a "multi-cultural company" interested in shows producible "without regard to the ethnicity of the actors." Here they also cast Eloise Chitmon across gender lines, though she wasn't entirely convincing as a man. And it has to be said that Robert Mackey sometimes looked more like a square-jawed goy trying to be Jewish rather than a truly panicked schlemiel. Lines like "Suppose the bitch hasn't enough food" can't be delivered matter-of-factly or they risk just sounding offensive.

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