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A CurtainUp Review 3 Virgins

by Les Gutman

It's the summer of Sam on film. Giuliani is chasing the porn palaces away from 42nd Street. Ally McBeal is around the corner killing babies. What's a person to do?

The group of performers known as The Collapsable Giraffe (TCG) offers up, as a possible answer, a new performance which they call 3 Virgins. It's a whirligig of text, sound, video cameras, monitors, microphones, dolls and actors speaking in odd cadences that makes the company's genetic link to The Wooster Group (see CurtainUp's review of The Wooster Group's latest production, linked below) pretty apparent.

The central story, from which the title derives, is about Sapientia (Susan Brennan), a woman who gets into a tiff with the evil emperor Hadrian (Jim Findlay) and his sidekick, Antiochus (Guy Larkin), and ends up sacrificing her daughters, Faith, Hope and Charity (played onstage by Lori Chodos, Makeda Christodoulos and a doll and on video by Jessica Trudeau, Jenny Doherty and Katy Trudeau), to the greater glory of Christ. (The playbill seems to take special pride in reporting that the author, Hrotsvita, was "the first female playwright, first poet of Saxony, first dramatist of Germany and the first female German historian".)

It's one of those texts that cries out for the kind of irreverent but intelligent treatment it gets here. TCG interlaces it, brilliantly and to mystical effect, with material from a "spirit channeler" who works with hypnotized subjects and from a California criminal proceeding in which the defendant maniacally accuses various and sundry public officials of a plethora of crimes (rapes, beatings and pedophilia among them), of many of which the accused stands charged. If this doesn't seem to make sense on paper, never mind.

Still a bit of a work-in-progress, the through-line is a little hard to follow at times, and it's difficult keeping up with all the players without a scorecard. But by its raucous end, which is shocking if not surprising, you'll have a pretty good idea what director Amy Huggans and company are trying to convey. My guess is it gets a degree clearer each time it's performed.

Brennan is an agile performer of the Kate Valk (Wooster's preëminent leading lady) variety: a commanding stage presence who is also exceptionally video-genic. TCG co-founder Findlay and Larkin, who are frequent collaborators, work together exceptionally well and to good effect. And the two younger women seem capable of everything that's asked of them (which at times is a lot). All of these are roles that require not only acting, but movement (sometimes even rising to the level of dancing) and vocalizing (sometimes to the level of singing), not to mention the fluid manipulation of props. Underlying (sometimes blowing by) the performances and perhaps most important of all, the technical support, through an array of videos, sound, lights and cameras, is mind-boggling.

This is also a show for which the venue itself is a story. It takes place in one of the "theaters" upstairs at Show World, a struggling porn palace that's fallen on hard times. (It was once known as the McDonald's of porn.) One must still enter with the "regular" customers, but the stairs up to 3 Virgins (with a sign warning that there are no live naked women) doesn't require entering the "adult" area. TCG does heed the anti-nudity admonition, but it doesn't pay as much attention to the three embossed plastic signs the management has glued to the wall behind the stage: "Touching Girls is Not Allowed," "All Video Cameras are Prohibited" and "All Exits are Final". LINKS MENTIONED ABOVE
CurtainUp's review of The Wooster Group's House/Lights
by The Collapsable Giraffe based on Sapientia by Hrotsvita of Gandersheim (circa 935 - 975 A.D.) 
Directed by Amy Huggans
with Susan Brennan, Lori Chodos, Makeda Christodoulos, Jim Findlay and Guy Larkin with Jessica Trudeau, Jenny Doherty and Katy Trudeau on video
Set Design: Bob Wonder 
Lighting Design: Jeff Sugg 
Costume Design: Tara Webb 
Video/Sound Design: Terrence Bernardo (also original music) and Oliver Van Praet 
Show World, 675 8th AV (42/43 Streets) (212) 674-9548 
opened July 10, 1999 closes July 25
Seen July 11, 1999 and reviewed by Les Gutman July 12, 1999

©Copyright July 1999, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
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