Through Oct 16.
Flo & Glo Do Group at JEM Arts Center
Through Oct 2.
Velocity Kickoff Velocity MainSpace Theater
Woody Guthrie's lyrics and writings provide the basis for the nearly 40 vignettes that comprise Strawberry Theatre Workshop's reworking of This Land. The play, originally produced in 1993 by Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre in Minneapolis, is a mishmash of balladry, WPA imagery, and clever contraptions; each of the stories is enacted by sad, slumping Bunraku puppets and sung by an ensemble of actors in the proletarian dress of another generation.
Although the musical direction (by Taproot and Book-It regular Edd Key) is superb, the play's allegiance to its source material extends beyond folk tunes. To get to the big hits, like Billy Bragg and Wilco's version of "California Stars" and the more subversive verses of "This Land Is Your Land," you have to sit through a reading of the entirety of Guthrie's rambling 1946 essay "The Word I Want to Say" (reprinted in the program for your editing pleasure). Efforts to draw parallels between Guthrie's main preoccupations (labor, jingoism, lynchings) and 21st-century issues (labor, jingoism, hate crimes) feel alternately stunted and strained. It's not incorrect to compare the murder of James Byrd Jr. to a similar crime in the Jim Crow-era South, but it is too easy. Other such connections are tenuous (Guthrie's "deportees" are matched with projected text reading "fanatics" and "insurgents") or insufficiently devel- oped (Seattle's 1919 general strike and 1999 WTO protests).
Ultimately, the tenor of This Land is less nostalgic than it is fetishistic. Woody Guthrie was an interesting figure who contributed to a fascinating era in American history, but this earnest tribute doesn't do him justice.
On another continent altogether (not industrial Georgetown, where the production is staged, but Antarctica, where the action takes place) I encountered Flo (Rhonda J. Soikowski) and Glo (Rhiannon Lee), two outsized women with outsized personalities to match. The gleefully absurdist one-act Flo & Glo owes a clear debt to Waiting for Godot, with a pair of sub-arctic tarmac shovelers in place of Didi and Gogo. The characters wear red hats and mittens and Sumo-wrestler proportioned suits, constructed with wire hoops instead of padding, and much of the exquisite physical comedy derives from watching the skilled actors lumber around and scratch their asses and attempt to right themselves after a tumble on the ice.
Glo is apple-cheeked and lazy, with hoops that shape her into a dumpy, slope-shouldered peasant. Even so, she has better luck with men than her coworker Flo, whose hourglass hoops cannot compensate for her hilariously squeaky verbal assault. ("I'm just expressing myself!" Flo protests. "Everybody does it.") As Flo shovels snow, she hatches ridiculous schemes to seduce men, including a come-hither imitation of a blinking, braying brontosaurus. ("'Cause guys really like dinosaurs.") This show is completely irresistible, and well worth the haul down south.
Last weekend was the fund-raiser and kickoff for Velocity Dance Center, where a slew of new and established choreographers excerpted recent per- formances and previewed new works. The Degenerate Art Ensemble's excerpt from the Butoh-inflected Cuckoo Crow was intermittently intriguing, especially whenever the creaky accompaniment seemed to amplify the sound of Haruko Nishimura's arachnoid joints rotating in their sockets, but the best of the showcase belonged to more mainstream modern dance. LeGendre Performance Group reprised Almost Quarry, a spectacular work that glances off high-minded theory in textual asides about Indonesian chickens, flirts with passive audience participation, and manages to make even the walls of the space seem heavy. Almost Quarry will return to Aftermath Gallery at the end of October, and Amii LeGendre will be showing her new duet The Raft (performed by Aiko Kinoshita and Sarah Gamblin) this weekend in 3. Also receiving its premiere in 3 is acornDance's Entry, which was excerpted in the showcase. It's a dynamic ensemble piece with several simultaneous points of focus, and while the performances could stand to be tightened (and the improvised portions restrained slightly), the fragment was promising. The closing piece of the showcase was a portion of the work-in-progress fairy-tale opera The Onion Twins, from BetterBiscuitDance. The soothing, repetitious libretto by Rebecca Brown was echoed in simple, telegraphed movements by choreographer Alex Martin, and the effect was surprisingly entrancing.