Stage

Brady Street Redux?
The Brady Street Dance Center, widely acknowledged as San Francisco's liveliest venue for low-budget dance performance, has lain relatively dormant since a bitter dispute erupted this spring among its principals. Now comes news that the venue's lease will be taken over by the San Francisco Dance Center, the city's major clearinghouse for dance classes.

As we reported here in March, disagreements between Brady Street leaseholder Keli Fine and acting Artistic Director Krissy Keefer had led to Keefer's resignation. With her departed the site's production team, Joe Williams and Matthew DeGumbia, who took their equipment with them. A contentious public meeting in March starring the four key players, as well as other choreographers and performers, seemed to produce some tentative points of negotiation. These, it turns out, were never actually pursued. "After Joey, Matthew, and Krissy pulled the lights," Fine says flatly, "I decided I would not consider working with them again." In May, she began negotiating with San Francisco Dance Center (SFDC), a nonprofit organization established by Lines Contemporary Ballet Artistic Director Alonzo King in 1989.

SFDC General Manager Pam Hagen and Artistic Director Susanna Douthit say Brady Street will remain a low-cost, widely accessible performance space. "It's very important that [Brady Street] be kept affordable," Hagen says. "To get good as a choreographer, one needs to be able to perform a lot." The pair say they will work to win back the events that came to represent Brady Street's adventurous and festive spirit: Summer/Fest Dance, Keefer's Women's series, and the Lesbian and Gay Dance Festival, which have since found other homes.

Douthit says she specifically hopes Keefer, whom she notes Alonzo King "has a great deal of respect for," will return to produce a series. Douthit will serve as Brady Street's new artistic director, as well as managing the classes at both Brady Street and SFDC. Keefer says she wishes SFDC "the best of luck" and says she will "consider Brady Street like any other space to produce work."

Other than a pervasive sense of relief that the space didn't return to its origins as a parts shop, as had been rumored, the reaction to the news has been mixed. The range reveals the vexed obsession the underfunded local dance scene has with the idea of "community," a term used ad nauseam to mean anything from the speaker's own inner circle of acolytes to anyone who has ever uttered the word "dance."

Oakland Ballet Executive Director Joan Lazarus feels the merger serves basically the same "community" that Keefer did. "That thing that Krissy has -- that she has touched a lot of lives -- Alonzo has that too," Lazarus notes. "He has long roots in the dance community. He has worked with almost everybody, and people think highly of him. Lines is not a closed shop. That part of Brady Street hasn't changed."

Some -- dismayed that Fine did not offer the lease to the departed trio, who had expressed interest in taking it over if Fine decided to give it up -- fear Fine hasn't honored the "community." One person, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, "It seems vengeful [that Fine didn't include Keefer and company] -- disrespectful to the whole community."

But others are pleased that an organization, well-protected from the whimsies of individuals, is now responsible for Brady Street. It gets around the "community" question. "Krissy, Joe, and Matt obviously put a whole lot of work into the space and made it into a really happening performance space," says choreographer Stephen Pelton. "But why I'm so optimistic about Lines is that it's a different paradigm. It's like, OK, let's take someone who's not from within the 'community.' What's great about Lines is that they are completely outside of that whole mess."

-- Apollinaire Scherr

Damaged Flair
Damaged Care. Directed by Dan Chumley. Starring Ed Holmes, Victor Toman, Velina Brown, Keiko Shimosato, Michael Gene Sullivan, and others. Presented by the San Francisco Mime Troupe in Bay Area parks through Sept. 7. Call 646-0639 for a schedule.

The San Francisco Mime Troupe has a 36-year history of thumbing its nose at money, of doing free (and sometimes naked) street theater on current events, of lacerating what its head scriptwriter calls "the rule of capital," of keeping alive old traditions of political commedia dell'arte and leftist Brechtian theater -- and to its credit, faced with a booming economy and public shifts in taste away from political art, it's never given up.

Unfortunately, their shows these days are thin. Damaged Care is a new commedia-style play about health care, currently touring the local parks. It protests -- as one of the characters puts it, so no one will miss the point -- "this country's refusal to give all of its citizens free, loving, universal care," and late in the show some of the characters wave glimmering universal health-care cards, like the card Clinton once waved before Congress. "This country," of course, hasn't refused to give anyone anything: The term "this country," like the word "society," is too huge and impersonal to have any meaning when it's used with a word like "give." Republican senators may have banded together in 1994 to keep universal health care away from the people -- hoping to mollify their insurance-industry friends and rob Clinton of a second term -- but that's not quite the same thing.

It wouldn't matter, except the Mime Troupe suffers from being unspecific. Their shows lay out political arguments without rising above cliches. Damaged Care has a medical fat cat named Dr. Capitano buying out Bologna Hospital and turning it into "Capacare," a new HMO. He starts to cut back, and Nurse Basil threatens to walk out because insuranceless patients are being turned away. But Nurse Basil is a serious woman, torn between protesting and caring for her patients; she can't quite leave. One of the patients is Arlecchino, who has a whimsical growth on his shoulder that wriggles, smells cheesy, and speaks French. He can't get into the emergency room as an uninsured patient, so he tries to get in as a doctor. This almost works. The show is a live cartoon played out in commedia masks and funny costumes, with a few good lines and good performances, especially from Velina Brown as Basil and Ed Holmes as the evil Capitano (people in the audience hiss at him) -- and a few routines, like the voice-mail hell that the HMO phone system subjects everyone to, are hilarious.

But as a whole the play is a weak argument for an excellent cause. The movement from hospitals as private, money-losing, charitable businesses -- sometimes run by nuns -- to hospitals as department arms of HMOs was not caused by a shift in social attitudes from the groovy '70s to the ruthless '80s, as Dr. Capitano jokingly suggests in a speech; it was made almost inevitable by skyrocketing medical costs. A really sharp leftist theater troupe would start right there with its satire, rather than making the problem look like a simple equation of greed.

-- Michael Scott Moore

Song in Three Parts
Aria da Capo. By Edna St. Vincent Millay. Directed by Jacqueline Blackman. Starring Ben Gorman, Angela Goodsell, Rachel Brown, Tori Hinkle, and Glen Micheletti. At Exit Stage Left, 156 Eddy (at Mason), through July 28. Call 673-3847.

Early in this century, Harlequins were hip. Even William Faulkner wrote a limpid, rhyming Harlequinade around 1920, with a man in motley named Pierrot and a lover who stared at the moon. Why he did this I have no idea; but he may have been influenced by Edna St. Vincent Millay, who had a Pierrot play staged in 1919 to protest the Great War. Millay became the first female poet ever to win a Pulitzer Prize. In her later years she wrote almost exclusively about politics, and Aria da Capo is an elegant example from her 20s of how to do good commedia-style political theater. It doesn't rant or polemicize, which is the same thing as saying that it doesn't hand a critic any argument to disagree with. It just shows, in skillful outline, a rich society ignoring the carnage of its lower classes in a distant war. What George Bernard Shaw says in almost three hours with Heartbreak House, Millay says in 45 minutes with Aria. It is amusing, brutal, and brief.

First Pierrot and Columbine sit at the table and sip wine. If it were Tuesday, Columbine says, "you could kiss me" -- but, alas, it's Wednesday. Columbine declares herself "hot as a spoon in a teacup!" while Pierrot says he's tired of dresses with hemlines at the bottom, "... and women with their breasts in front of them." It goes on like this, with balletic gestures and romantic sighs, until Cothurnus comes on and says it's time for his scene. He kicks Pierrot and Columbine off, calls on Thyrsis and Corydon, and directs a crude little play about two shepherds who divide their pasture with an imaginary wall. This leads to that, and the shepherds kill each other. Telling what else happens wouldn't be fair, but Thyrsis and Corydon are played nicely by Tori Hinkle and Rachel Brown; Brown is especially good when Corydon finds some valuable rocks -- really just colored puffs of cloth -- and tries to make Thyrsis jealous.

In music, an aria da capo is a song in three parts, with the third part repeating the first. Early in the century it was fashionable to write stories and plays around musical structures, and this habit gave even political theater an uncommon kind of grace.

-- Michael Scott Moore

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