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TODAY

Tuesday, December 11

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Detour

Age of Innocence: The Bloodletting, by Simon Crispin
I was completely unprepared for the moving performance I witnessed last night. Thinking I was in for another session of the avant-garde anger and the sexually-charged caterwauling that has become today's quote/unquote performance art, I steeled myself with a large quantity of vodka before taking my aisle seat for Simon Crispin's Age of Innocence: The Bloodletting at The Lecherous Doorman Theater in Little Village.

Little did I know that in the space of a single evening I would be reduced to a blubbering mass of tears by the sublime beauty and artful wit of Mister Crispin's one-man show.

Even before the fiery conclusion of the first act, the svelte Crispin had transformed himself into the very soul of the reincarnated Buddy Ebsen. A vaudevillian showman, crying through his tears, Crispin's body language told a tale no voice could utter. That he could tiptoe at all, much less under the weight of the running Husqvarna 55 Rancher chainsaw that was strapped to the top of his head, was a miracle. The grace with which he threw himself back and forth across the harshly-lit stage was admirable and spoke volumes about the conflicted star of "The Beverly Hillbillies" and "Barnaby Jones."

While many will remember this performance for its bigger, showier moments, the balletic ping-pong scene and the glorious call-and-response between Crispin/Ebsen and the ghost of Bert Lahr -- "What are you really?" "I say I'm no show-pony." "What are you really?" I say I'm no show-pony." -- were certainly magnificent, I will remember always the smaller moments. For example, the end of the second act. A simple three-legged stool, a bare light bulb and a hand mirror were all the tools the young actor needed to entrance the already hypnotized audience. His scratchy voice, barely a whisper seemed as frail and vulnerable as a child's as he recited like a mantra the Chicago street names that begin with the letter O. "Ozanam. Oconto. Oketo. Oliphant..." It was as if this litany of avenues had transported me out of the moldy smelling theater/tire-repair shop and into a place where truth and beauty were given their due. I sat transfixed during the short intermission, trembling with anticipation of what was to come.

I hold this truth the be self-evident. Simon Crispin is bound for bigger things. I dare not spoil the third act with too much detail but suffice it to say that if you, like me, thought Marton Csokas's performance as the elf-king Celeborn in The Lord of the Rings raised the craft of naturalistic, emotional acting to a new level, you might have to think again after seeing Age. Alas, Cripsin/Ebsen flies too near the sun and when the Wizard of Oz Tinman role goes to the other guy, the final crushing anguish is all but inevitable. No one finds redemption. No one finds peace. No one finds the set of car keys that fell between the cushions of the couch.

I hesitate to bring up a few minor quibbles with the performance for fear they'll seem to dim my enthusiasm for this work. There is some violence and brief nudity, but Age would make for a fine family show were it not for the especially harsh language in the "Shore Leave" section of the second act. Some have commented that the show's running time of six hours and 20 minutes is too long, but honestly I can't think of a single moment I wouldn't miss if it were cut, except for possibly the second reprise of the dance-number "Serenade to Miss Hathaway" in Act Three.

Age of Innocence: The Boodletting runs Thursdays through Saturdays at 6pm with a 2pm matinee on Sundays. Group rates are available.
-JC

Freedom Crawl II, by Siddhartha Surendranath
Judging from the number of spectators accompanying me on the ragged coast of Lake Michigan, early Tuesday morning at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, interest in Des Plaines-based Siddhartha Surendranath's latest work is not high. In addition to Mr. Surendranath's representative (Jonathan Cidney of Cidney/Rutherford/Blatz Gallery) and wife (sculptor Mathilde Korenbaum), there are but five patrons of the arts here to witness the initial steps -- or should I say drags? -- of "Freedom Crawl II," the artist's representation of the struggles of the underclass in his homeland of Lakshadweep, India.

Over the course of a week, Mr. Suredranath will crawl on his stomach, clad only in the traditional cotton robes of the "Untouchables" caste, along the coastline from here to Oak Street Beach, where he will build an effigial funeral pyre for the poor.

In this respect, "Freedom Crawl II" is quite similar to its predecessor, "Freedom Crawl I," which was performed August 13-15, 2001, in Hianesport, New Jersey. However, this new work does not include the self-flagellation of the previous piece, nor, hopefully, will it gain the attention of local hoodlums -- Mr. Surendranath was briefly hospitalized after "Freedom Crawl I" due to unexpected involvement from several local youths. The path the crawl takes seems to be designed to avoid much interaction with the public, at least in the initial stages. To avoid public interference during the urban stages of the work, the artist has hired two bodyguards to monitor his progress and intervene should trouble arise.

That is not to say the project has been problem free. Mr. Surendranath had great difficulty gaining permission from private owners on the North Shore to crawl through their property; in fact, he was barred access to the entire shoreline of Kenilworth, and will instead be crawling along the sidewalk on Sheridan Road for half a mile before moving back east once inside Wilmette city limits. Plans for a 10-foot-long orange flag proclaiming "Touch the Untouchable!" were scrapped when property owners objected to the display, and it was realized that the artist may not have the strength to hold up the banner as the days wore on.

It is difficult to say whether or how Mr. Surendranath's will affect the conditions in Lakshadweep. However, the arduous journey from Zion to downtown Chicago may ultimately draw attention to the varied conditions of the lake's coastline, from well-preserved to poorly maintained. It will take him past a closed US naval base and an active Coast Guard facility, past a grand temple and lowly projects, over gardens and concrete and limestone rocks.

Back on Illinois Beach, the emotion on Mr. Surendranath's face as he slithered the first few yards was that of intense concentration and despair. His body leaves a serpentine scrape in the sand behind him, reflecting the uncertain path toward freedom for a people a half-world away.

"Freedom Crawl II" will be underway through August 3. An installation of Siddhartha Surendranath's preparatory collateral will be on display at Cidney/Rutherford/Blatz Gallery, 1402 N. Michigan Ave., until August 28.
-AH

TupperArt, by Todd Whitmer and Mary McNoleridge
When my friend Alice Hase first told me about a new performance artist troupe that was coming to Chicago, I was skeptical. TupperArt, they called themselves. I was worried that TupperArt was simply mimes who came to your house to sell Tupperware. Or some house party where artists make Tupperware art in your home. Truth be told, "Untitled Bowl Series #31" or some other Tupperware art would have been more engaging.

TupperArt has their roots in the early '90s outsider art seen in Brooklyn. Todd Whitmer got his start in the art world with his numerous beer can sculptures, photographed rare antique squirt guns, and sculptures out of beach garbage. When he met partner Mary McNoleridge in early 2000 at a Manhattan candle exchange, their work started investigating Tupperware as a concept: what does it mean to be "stored" or "sealed"? How do Tupperware parties combine the ancient idea of potlatch with the modern consumer impulse?

Had any of these questions been answered -- or even raised -- by the performance, I would have been pleased. Instead I was left with an uninspired work that was less interesting than most 4th grade theatre.

TupperArt's concept is simple. Unlike most performance art where there are relatively defined concepts of performer and audience, TupperArt takes art into the home. Todd and Mary gather the participants in a circle -- not unlike a Tupperware party -- and hand out different shapes and sizes of Tupperware. Each participant is asked to write a concept or a thing they'd like to store in the Tupperware and then hand it to the artists. The artists then perform the concept together, with one providing sound and the other action.

Perhaps New Yorkers are better are deciding what to put in the Tupperware than those of us from the so-called fly-over states are. One piece, titled "Jello," had Mary screaming "RedRedRedRed" while Todd danced and bobbled like a piece of Jello on the run. Another piece, "Yesterday's Dreams," asked each audience member our dream from the day before, which they pretended to seal and keep fresh in the TupperWare. I was also not moved by the rhythms they created with the final piece, "Drum," in which we tried to turn our artistic Tupperware party into a drum circle. The beat of a salad bowl doesn't move the spirit.

Original? Perhaps. Compelling? Hardly. The lack of preparation left most of the concepts somewhere south of fully developed. The artists only scratched the surface of the concepts they discovered and kept stored in the Tupperware. And the passing of the plate and pitcher for donations at the end left a distinctly bad taste in my mouth. If I had gone to a real Tupperware party and paid what I did at TupperArt, I would have left with hard plastic that I could fill. TupperArt left me empty and unchallenged. Duchamp proved that sometimes a urinal is more than a urinal -- it's a beautiful woman descending a staircase. TupperArt proved that Tupperware is a poor vehicle for performance art and that some salad bowls are best left for salad.
-BS

 

About the Author(s)

Jim Coudal is the mind and the man behind Coudal Partners. Andrew Huff is editor of Gapers Block and principal of Dead Horse Communications. Brian Sobolak harvests dreams and disposes of old Tupperware contents at planetshwoop.com.

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