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Arts & Entertainment Preview - June 1999

Dance and Theater
B Y   N A N C Y   D A L V A   &   J O H N   I S T E L

Wild Things


One fine day almost thirty years ago a merry band of superathletic Dartmouth guys -- inspired by their comely teacher, Alison Becker Chase -- got together in a New England cow pasture and gave a dance performance. Their choreography process was communal. Their spirit was antic (they have always, for instance, liked to take off their clothes). Their momentum was fabulous. They got another female (more on her shortly) and decided to call themselves Pilobolus (after an indigenous fungus). The rest is, believe it or not, dance history. Never forsaking their weird blend of the surreal and the merry, to say nothing of the cerebral and the silly, the originals grew their company into a popular and critical success. Still communal after all these years (though less so; there are now recognizable choreographic personalities, and credited works), this is a group that appeals to cognoscenti and to the uninitiated. You don't have to like dance to like Pilobolus, but it doesn't hurt. This month the company appears at the American Dance Festival, in Durham, N.C. (June 22-26; tickets 919-684-4444; for more information about the festival call 919-684-6402). The gig includes a major collaboration with the children's-book wizard Maurice Sendak. Looking again at his wonderful Where the Wild Things Are, one can see that Sendak's creatures and the original Pilobolites have much in common. Their union should produce something marvelous. (The piece is also scheduled for the company's subsequent run at the Joyce Theater, in New York City, July 5-30.) Meanwhile, Pilobolus is preceded at ADF (June 17-19) by Martha Clarke, that other woman they got to join them. Greatly gifted and long out on her own in the worlds of theater, dance, and opera (hers is a sensibility both painterly and literary), she is presenting a piece based on stories by Anton Chekhov, called Vers la flamme. I've never seen a piece of hers that wasn't memorable and beautiful. --N.D.

A Nineteenth-Century Knockout

The playwright  
Jeffrey Hatcher  

Jeffrey Hatcher's plays thrive where most good theater does these days: on the margins of the mainstream imagination. Hollywood gave us the middlebrow epic Titanic. Hatcher gave us a quirky three-character play, Scotland Road, about a woman found floating on an iceberg eighty-five years after the great ship went down, who may or may not be a survivor. Now Hatcher has come up with Sockdology, which will be given its world premiere at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival this month. Again Hatcher takes an elliptical approach to a well-covered event: the assassination of Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theatre. The dramatist focuses on the players' lives backstage, concocting a comic structure as sophisticated as the company's offering that fateful night -- Our American Cousin -- is hackneyed. The play works on myriad levels: as a postmodern melodrama with black-coated villains and vital plot-turning props; as a mystery exploring who in the cast is part of the conspiracy; and as a paean to the vanished nineteenth-century theater, with its preening actors who are both valorized and vilified. It's a theatrical confection whose wallop is more whimsical than its title: "sockdology" is "a boxing term," according to one character. "It means a finishing blow. A knockout. The brutal end of everything." --J.I.

Send in the Clown

  Geoff Hoyle clowns around

Working in classic commedia fashion, the clown Geoff Hoyle and his "midwife" -- as the director Tony Taccone dubs himself -- give birth to antic entertainments that are hard to categorize. "I would call it clown ballet," says Taccone, the artistic director of the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, where the duo's latest opus, The First Hundred Years, runs through July 10. Never mind the labels. Hoyle has been entertaining Bay Area audiences since the seventies, when, as "Mr. Sniff," he clowned with Bill Irwin in the Pickle Family Circus. Dedicated to raising circus arts to just plain art, they were in the vanguard of the new vaudeville movement. Subsequently Taccone started Hoyle's legit career when he cast him in a Dario Fo farce. (Recently Hoyle played Zazu in The Lion King on Broadway.) The First Hundred Years promises darker shades of hilarity than Boomer! and Geni(us), two previous original creations. The premise is that an aging clown has made his home in a condemned theater, surrounded by the detritus of his life. Refusing to be evicted, he resists with all his might even as his theater begins to be razed. Taccone sees Beckettian overtones: "It's a little like Buster Keaton meets Krapp's Last Tape." --J.I.

Nancy Dalva's essays appear in the magazine 2wice.

John Istel is a senior editor at Stagebill.

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Photo Credits -- Wild Things: Michael O'Neill. Jeffrey Hatcher: Lisa Stevens.
Copyright © 1999 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.

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