Gooseflesh & Pallor: A Journey through Fear
Open Circle Theatre
429 Boren Ave N, 323-0388,
Thurs-Sat at 8 pm, through June 3. $7.

Bram Stoker's Dracula, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the mad surgeon Jack the Ripper wielding his sharp scalpel in London's foggy night, even the decrepit Victorian mansion in which Casper the Friendly Ghost hopefully floats--the Victorian era continues to engage the modern imagination with endlessly resonating archetypes of horror. So it appeared that Open Circle Theatre had chosen a foolproof topic with their current work-in-progress, Gooseflesh & Pallor: A Journey through Fear, which purports to be based on the writings of the turn-of-the-century philosopher William James, the brother of Henry James (who coincidentally created the chilling masterpiece of psychological horror The Turn of the Screw).

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The piece opens with William James (played by the playwright Sean Eagon) wearing a musty-looking frock coat, menaced by hobgoblins as he lies unconscious over his papers. The arresting image echoes both Goya's famous engraving of a whirlwind of demons and the painting The Nightmare (of an incubus squatting on a prone woman's chest), and it induced a gasp of delight from the audience. Unfortunately, it was the last real surprise of the evening.

Inexplicably, creators Eagon and Elizabeth Klobe have chosen to explore fear primarily through what can only be described as interpretive dance and abstract prose. The ensemble gamely lurches from one set piece to the next with very little dramatic timing and no sense of coherent storytelling. Perhaps these vignettes somehow illustrate James' work; but since he was reduced to a recurring character who popped up randomly throughout the show, clutching a sheaf of papers while muttering obscurely, that remained unfortunately unclear.

Creating original work is in itself a terrifying process, but it's always better to courageously attempt something and fail than to stay at home watching Smackdown reruns. So Open Circle should be applauded for their commitment to originating new theater. But hopefully they'll take the information garnered from their post-show discussions with the audience and head back into rehearsals with a renewed resolution to actually take a "journey through fear," not an interpretive dance through discomfort. TAMARA PARIS

Theater Schmeater
1500 Summit Ave, 324-5801
Thurs-Sat at 8 pm, through June 24.
$12, Thurs are pay-what-you-can.

The protagonists in Bill Corbett's disappointing satire Motorcade are caught between the failure of a manufacturing-driven economy and the uncertain rise of service industries that took their place. Set in 1974, President Ford's planned appearance in a small Midwestern city allows the rising star of the new economy--the media--to perform an appropriately banal and disrespectful eulogy of the previous economy's pin-up girl: steel. The plot revolves around a feeble fake assassination scare (drummed up by two unemployed mill workers) and the prank's attendant fallout. Corbett smartly makes the final fate of his leads dependent on their ability to adapt to the nascent economy's still-new standards, allowing him to take vicious shots at the amorality, impermanence, and isolation fostered by today's particular brand of hyper-commercialism.

But surprisingly--for a writer whose best-known work appeared on television (he contributed to Mystery Science Theater 3000)--Corbett allows his play to drift. He tries to universalize Motorcade by taking on other social issues brought to the forefront by the shift in economies, and attempts to humanize its subject matter by showing the personal cost to the two leads. It's not a good mix. A vigilante leader manipulating a local television reporter to great advantage is funny as an extension of Corbett's media critique, but militia men beating a character onstage is unrealistic melodrama. Corbett's side stories broaden Motorcade's scope but drastically diminish its focus.

Because director Rachel Katz Carey stages the show with an even-handed reverence for each component part, she becomes complicit in the dissipation of energy that marks the second act. As staged, Motorcade is a two-man show where each actor plays a lead, a female foil, a media personality, and a disgruntled militia member. Both actors do admirable work. Joshua Parrott's is better across the board, and his modulated intensity feeds into Corbett's stronger themes much more effectively than Todd Sessoms' plaintive approach. A sharper production might be able to match Motorcade's shifts in tone to the unsettling shift in economies its best scenes eviscerate. But as performed by Theater Schmeater, Motorcade remains an interesting, muddled, and minor work. TOM SPURGEON

Julie Tolentino: The Bottom Project
On the Boards
It was last weekend. You missed it.

New York dancer/choreographer Julie Tolentino called the segments of her new work-in-progress "vignettes," which suited them; currently, The Bottom Project is a series of fragments and suggestions, such as a collection of performers lying on the floor, tearing apart heads of cabbage with their teeth while another delicately tears off whole leaves, reciting, "He loves me--he love me not." While this image had no apparent connection to anything else in the show, it was certainly amusing unto itself. Tolentino subtitled the piece First Installation, which also fit; many elements--such as a shower of rice cascading on a dancer's head for around 20 seconds, or a naked performer in butoh-esque makeup standing in a Plexiglas box for almost the entire length of the show--owed as much to visual art as to dance. Nothing held the show together but the intrinsic interest of the segments themselves (that, and the gorgeous country/ triphop soundtrack, composed by Julie Fowells and Bernard Elsmere and performed partially live by Fowells).

Not everything worked, in the sense that some snippets left my head the instant they ended. Some, like Tolentino dancing and struggling with a series of latex rubber bands stretched across the stage, grabbed the eye and might resonate emotionally in the right context, but as isolated bits remained ideas. But others were perfect little pearls of performance, like a sequence in which five dancers bathed in dim blue light did a slow, repetitive sideways slink. Or when Tolentino whirled and bounced off the theater's back wall while a rosy sidelight from the right wing shone across it; every time she touched the wall's surface, a black wind seemed to erupt from the contact, shooting off to the left wing. It's impossible to know what the finished Bottom Project will be like, but the work-in-progress has its own rewards. BRET FETZER