|Blank Line Collective presents|
|Written by John O’Keefe
at Lacuna Artist Lofts, 2150 S. Canalport (map)
through October 16 | tickets: $10 | more info
Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins
I am always leery of tales about women on the edge. They never seem to go far enough in showing how far a person can be pushed. It’s considered normal to think of men as coolly murderous or lecherous characters in theatre and film. When that character is a woman there is much made of analyzing the behavior and fraught discussion of how this abomination came to be. The Blank Line Collective production of John O’Keefe’s Disgrace lives and breathes brilliantly in a nebulous now moment. The setting is described as a picnic, but there ends the bucolic scenario. Three women are running away to have a picnic but seem to have escaped an institution of some sort. Stephanie Brown, Amanda Lewis, and Melanie Sizemore play the roles of Simone, Katherine, and Christine. These women are framed in a surreal state of mind. They are dressed in diaphanous dresses and delicate lace but the accoutrement are mired in dirt and sweat – not at all ladylike.
Have Simone, Katherine, and Melanie formed a band of refugees fleeing a crime or has the crime been committed against them? They are vicious with each other and at once loving as they manically roam the countryside of imagination. The women claim to be disgraced and outcast for the crimes of love, lust, psychotic visions, and worst of all forming an unbreakable and incestuous bond with each other.
I have to say that my breath was taken away the minute the action began. Blank Line Collective has created a near perfect synthesis of space and action. The audience is in the center of the room while the action occurs in the round. I felt like I was on a runaway carousel and not the cute kind. The animals on this ride were frothing, sweating, and open to the world with nostrils flared. The audience is sitting in a pure blackout. All senses are on edge when you hear the women’s voices coming offstage in a shrieking cacophony. The lights come up and there is a collective consciousness of hypersensitivity. Brown, Lewis, and Sizemore give gorgeous and devastating performances. They present a kaleidoscope of escapist whimsy, delusion, and atavistic violence in the pursuit of escape.
The characters have all loved the same man and they all claim to have participated in his murder and the murder or disappearance of his progeny.
The cast makes its’ way around the raw loft space that is scattered with what looks like detritus from a derelict country estate. Each quadrant of the space represents a step closer to a peak they are racing toward and yet terrified to reach. All of the picnic spots have the eerie feel of a Fauvist painting gone awry. The garden is a sparse collection of pots and dried branches but the women imagine it to be the field of poppies from Oz as they wallow in the narcotic escape. The picnic is but a utilitarian meal of two sandwiches and a can of soda perversely taking the role a dainty tea spread. Simone savages part of the meal with a purloined pocketknife. The washing scene is cleansing, erotic and yet still leaves the mind to wonder what they are preparing for now. Even though I knew what the climax of the play would be, I still felt shocked and drained by the pure adrenaline of the cast.
John O’Keefe was raised in Catholic orphanages and juvenile homes during the post-war baby boom years. The institutions of that time suppressed human urges and freedom of the soul while purporting to save the soul. The feel of society decaying rather than progressing is palpable in his work and from that decay comes renewal and hope for freedom. The rhythm of this particular work drummed in my psyche like the works of the Beats. All of the elements of nature are alive and viscerally dangerous despite seeming to exist in hyper Technicolor. O’Keefe presents the American female psyche and frees it from the everyday minutiae. The feminine attire and mores are torn asunder and literally dragged through dirt. The biological restraints of womanhood are figuratively seared off.
Blank Line Collective is dedicated to presenting theatre that is new and off the grid. They are a group of artists who do not toe the usual line; it is a slap of bracing fresh air. This is something to see and to be supported.
“Disgrace” has a limited run Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm September 24th through October 16th. Performances are at the Lacuna Lofts, 2150 Canalport in Chicago. Get more information at www.blanklinecollective.com