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A CurtainUp Review

Rrose Salevy Takes a Lover In Philadelphia (Philadelphia Fringe 2003)
By Kathryn Osenlund

The Festival Gallery, a spacious and very clean garage with brick walls, provides a handsome performance space for the New Paradise Laboratories' Fringe Festival production of Rrose Salevy, a piece about William Penn (and Philadelphia), Paris, and Duchamp. A raised stage, rather like a boxing ring, occupies the center, located between front and back audience sections. Two large screens face each other from behind the audience seating areas.

Promotional literature about the the six young artists in the piece says " One minute they live a gritty life in Philly and dream of Paris. The next minute they live a dreamy life in Paris and long for the mean streets of Philly." Even armed with this information, it's hard to see how the actions fit the explanation. The French connection is mostly confusing.

Though not a completely congenial mix of theatre and performance art, the piece has certainly accumulated through a lot of work and repeated improvisation. With its dance postures, erotic yet anti-erotic episodes, silly yet studied motions, snatches of songs of love, and voiceover narration from William Penn's writings, it is an uneasy, sometimes hard-to-stay-with pastiche.

An overly long prelude of looking for scripts for a play about William Penn precedes the rehearsal of a play, which, when it is presented, is not a play. Instead, , actors in costume move around, and maybe drink from wine bottles. Their movement for the most part appears unrelated to Penn's narrated statements. How can you tell this is performance art rather than a play performance? Because it follows the rule that such activity must be painfully and painstakingly slow. The Fringe information booklet says "expect . . .  ideas spraying like flying bullets." There certainly are ideas here, but they seem to take eons to form and evolve. Instead of bullets, think slo-mo puffballs. The best moments on stage are a few bright instances of irrational juxtaposition that recall Duchamp.

The most interesting artistry of this piece lies in the interaction of the live persons, video, and sound. The use of video is ingenious, with live coverage of stage activity plus some street shots, shown on screens that face each other and thus reflect ever receding images. The mirror image effect --and its subsequent use-- is reminiscent of Jan Van Eyck's well known painting Arnolfini and His Bride, in which a centrally placed mirror reflects new information into the frame.

Whit MacLaughlin, who directed the performance in addition to designing the sound and the carefully articulated lighting, has done a masterful job of integration. The audience is surrounded by sound-- a curious mix of tones, music, and narration. Brief pieces of actors' lines combine with subtle lighting shifts and prop movement. The inspired use of video's capabilities toward the end of the show is almost worth the wait.

While not entirely successful in its ambitious goal of making disparate elements somehow work together, this production is a worthy effort with fresh, promising ideas.

This and other original, zany, and serious pieces presented in the Fringe Festival attest to the fact that sometimes the reach of artists can exceed their grasp. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It's a time of ferment and discovery in the theatre/art world in Philadelphia, as evidenced by the array of presented works and the attraction of large, enthusiastic audiences to the festival.

Rrose Salevy Takes a Lover in Philadelphia
By New Paradise Laboratories
Directed by Whit MacLaughlin
Cast: Mary McCool, Lee Ann Etzold, Aaron Mumaw, Jeb Kreager, Matthew Saunders, McKenna Kerrigan. V/O: Jeb Kreager, Greg Giovanni, Charlotte Bouteille
Set Design: Matthew Saunders
Lighting Design: Whit MacLaughlin
Sound Design: Whit MacLaughlin, additional sound Karin Graybash
Costume Design: Mary McCool
Festival Gallery, New Street Running time 1 hr, 15 mins 08/28- 09/13/03. Fringe Festival
Reviewed by Kathryn Osenlund based on 09/05 performance

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