The Village Voice

 

Two Choreographers Visit Historic Sites
Peeling Down to the Core
by Deborah Jowitt
December 13 - 19, 2000

 

In the small, empty rooms of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, Doug Varone's dancers swoop about like bats, rocketing off the peeling walls, bracing themselves momentarily against spectators (never more than 20 at a time), whispering to us. Here a stained sink, there a list written on a door frame (50 dresses, 48 dresses . . .) attest to scrape-by lives and home labor in these dark 1850s railroad flats. As the performers in Neither hurry us down flights of stairs and into other rooms, David Ferri lights the space darkly; how much darker it must have been in gaslit days, when interior windows provided the cramped inner rooms with their only source of natural light.

Twice a night through December 17, Doug Varone and Dancers enact a play, written by Varone, about a woman in the liminal state between life and death. Like a Martha Graham heroine, this woman, played by Nancy Bannon, will not be allowed to cross that threshold fully without confronting her past. These apartments resemble those of her rigidly defined, working-class Catholic girlhood, and the layers of paint become a metaphor for the self deceptions she must peel away. The murmuring voices we hear buzz inside her head.

Varone creates another layer, which sometimes works cleverly, sometimes awkwardly. It appears that Bannon is auditioning for a performance group. Daniel Charon is asked to stand in for the heroine's lover; Larry Hahn and Merceditas Manago take on the roles of her parents. Frances Craig functions as stage manager, teaching "Nancy" a fragment of a duet with Charon. But Craig is primarily a gentle but remorseless guide and inquisitor who accepts no lies or delusions, and the increasingly distraught Bannon—enmeshed by whirling figures, tossed through an inner window, pressed against the flaking walls—is not auditioning for a performance, but for a visa to eternity. Charon, Hahn, Manago, Eddie Taketa, Adriane Fang, Keith Johnson, and Faye Driscoll are not bad actors, as Bannon irately insists at one point, but angels.

Accompanying "Nancy" on her reluctant quest through the dark, chill halls is an intriguing and moving experience. This woman who believes herself unloved and unloving, a wayward daughter who has committed suicide just an hour ago, is finally able to see, as if in a flickering film, her young-again mother smiling joyously over her pregnancy, hear her stern father acknowledge, "You'll always be my baby," and, with her lover, finish the duet she now understands.

That her dilemma seems generic is not Bannon's fault; she and Craig, who do most of the talking, are convincing actors. But Varone is not as accomplished a playwright as he is a choreographer. He doesn't give us enough details to shade his characters away from the stereotypical, or create powerful links with an environment that in itself is so resonant with the echoes of past lives.

 

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