by Megan Mayer
I caught the Windfarm performance on March 27, 2007 at Rogue Buddha Gallery. Since I wrote this nearly two weeks after the event, what follows are some thoughts on what stuck with me and how they made a lasting impression.
Mad King Thomas (Theresa Madaus, Tara King, Monica Thomas)
I must admit I'd already seen a version of Mad King Thomas' "Cover Your Head and Kiss Your Ass Goodbye" once before at Bryant-Lake Bowl's 9x22, so I have more information floating around in my brain about this piece because of the double exposure. The Windfarm adaptation was significantly longer with extended sections, a new ending, more text and a video monitor with a blinking eye off to one side of the space. When did that blinking eye change from blue to brown or vice-versa?
This piece has a youthful playfulness to it but also suggests darker, broader themes of torture and imperialism. I like how they mix the two with a healthy sense of irony and would like to see them pinpoint and push those extremes.
I giggled and audibly snorted at the earnest, childlike voice Theresa Madaus chose to deliver her line "Do cowboys wear socks?". Pelting Tara King's gruff cowboy character with overeager questions about cowboys is one of the most successful sections to me and I was happy that it made the cut for this rendition. She manages to nail the perfect innocent tone which contrasts nicely with the more dangerous interrogation section later in the piece.
There's a moment when Tara King's cowboy bends down and rubs sand on her face from the floor. It's obviously not a pleasant experience, and I was drawn to the desperation in it, but I couldn't see the sand on Tara's face because it blended with her sand-colored leather jacket and hair so the effect was lost a bit. I'd like to find a solution to this, perhaps by somehow lighting the dust around her face as the sand hits her skin? It feels like a defining moment for her character and I think it deserves the exposure.
I felt a kinship with the robot/astronaut character. This was partly due to the sentimental tug of Bowie; Space Oddity was a formative song for me as a child when I first grasped the concept of the expanse of the universe outside my little bedroom. But the tentative slow-motion astronaut/fumbling robot walk as well as the superheroes in costume also reminded me of sleepovers and highly detailed games I played with my cousin and how much more we took ourselves seriously when wearing costumes. So these sections conjured up all sorts of childhood associations for me. That said, I appreciated their incorporation of imagination and play with more mature concepts.
Monica Thomas had a captivating and vulnerable instant upstage where she was fumbling with her satin jacket zipper. Initially it appeared there was to be a dramatic unzipping and slick removal of an outer costume layer. But it got stuck. I could tell it wasn't going as planned as she gave it a couple of insistent tugs, her jaw steeled, and finally she turned away from the audience to face upstage. There was a lovely "I need help" sink of her shoulders as she turned around to face Tara King. Eventually she wriggled out of it by pulling it over her head and turned around with a relieved and defiant look on her face. I thought "Keep it"; I felt alive and engaged watching them solve that problem in front of my eyes and I liked that it became something other than what was intended.
I'd like to see the interrogation section where Theresa Madaus poses the same cowboy questions as earlier in the piece but with a more threatening tone be taken to more of an extreme. The section seemed longer to me than the first time I'd seen it and I didn't think it needed to be longer to be effective. Perhaps some footlights on Tara King's face from below could do the trick. When Monica Thomas' sprayed water in her face the first time (maybe it only needs to happen once?) it was unexpected and added some levity to the gravity. The burst of water was also a nice contrast to the sand on Tara King's face from earlier.
Billy Joel. First let me say that I hate this song. I'm of the opinion (and generation) that considers anything he wrote after"The Stranger" to be fluff and makes me roll my eyes. So when I first saw this piece at Bryant-Lake Bowl I assumed they chose this song because of its awfulness. But afterwards I realized that they might not necessarily feel the same way nor can I expect everyone to have the same associations with it. I'm still not sure why they chose this song, but it provides an annoyingly ridiculous backdrop as they line dance endlessly amidst a mess of sand, pill bottles, and cutout heads of various world leaders on metal spindles. To the entire song. Whew. Their heels thudded hard against the ground, pounding the earth (or rather, moon) in what seemed to be an intentionally careless fashion. Again I was reminded of my cousin and I in her basement furiously making up dances and of the grade school disco contests I forced my babysitter to judge in my living room. There is definitely something to this section that triggers your patience and ultimately I like where they're going with it. I would suggest they take it even further. I'd like to see a version where they stared directly at us the entire time and never down at the ground. I'd also like to see some light on that sand mess so (or a mirror on the ceiling) so we can really see exactly what all that stuff is they're demolishing as they dance.
Did I mention I was standing up in the back for this entire show? Portions of this piece took place on the ground, close to the front. Unfortunately I could see none of that. The end was quiet, with Monica Thomas kneeling on the floor stage left. I found myself thinking that the Rogue Buddha is not a terribly conducive setting for seeing dance, at least not with the current seating situation. At times I found myself feeling resentful, wishing I'd arrived an hour
beforehand to nab one of those front seats, and also distracted by the cigarette smoke outside the gallery.
Pamela (Emily Johnson, Hannah Kramer, and Jessica Cressey)
In a chance encounter with one of the Pamela creators in the downtown library a week before the Windfarm performance I learned that the title was rather disdainful to the performers. So I already had that notion in my head, and it actually made me want to see what they were up to even more.
Upon seeing these three women in their black dresses who I've seen perform countless times before, I was distracted by their elegance and gorgeousness. I found myself taking in their outfits, and I was so drawn to the details of their careful hair waves, lipstick, high waisted belts, seamed stockings and period shoes that I almost forgot to look at what was happening rather than what they were wearing. They all had a cool detached quality in their movement but primarily in their facial expressions. I instantly thought of the book Arsenic and Old Lace. Were they supposed to be sisters? Not sure. Would I have been scared to ring their doorbell at Halloween as a child? Most definitely.
The next thing I remember is Hannah Kramer's leg up in the air as she laid back on the couch. She had a captivating expression on her face, daring you to look up her skirt and yet stoic and unflappable in meeting your gaze. There seemed to be a great deal of tension in the air; something sinister seemed to be lurking around the corner. I liked that she repeated this leg raise several times; it was odd and inappropriate and jarring.
Emily Johnson headed upstage and spent much of her time on the floor almost against the back wall. I was curious what she was doing but her departure upstage and far away as possible suggested some reluctance to share what she knew. At one point I remember her jumping backwards in a series of spasms. The height and extension of her leg always surprises and impresses me; they're almost like wings and I wanted to see more of that.
The first time Jessica Cressey disappeared into the back room and closed the glass door was intriguing. The sound of a power drill coming from that back room lent a particularly creepy edge to the scene and for me recalled Tom Waits' song "What's he building in there?" Once Jessica Cressey came out wearing fabulous pants it was a great surprise but then I expected the others to follow suit so it was something of a letdown when this did occur.
I became less interested once the wall was rolled forward, probably because I was standing in the back on tiptoe and couldn't see much of anything downstage and on the floor. I also couldn't read the cue cards from my vantage point so wasn't sure what clues they provided. I also found the moving of the zillion chairs predictable; I wanted to see them move rather than furniture.
I was unclear what they were trying to accomplish towards the end where Hannah Kramer dons a head scarf and dark glasses and tells us how sad she is today. It seemed like part of a different piece and felt out of place. I wanted her character to either get intensely sad or angry, but the detached delivery left me feeling a bit empty and I felt myself pull back out of the experience.
Parts that brought me back and engaged me? One instance was Jessica Cressey crossing the stage grinning with wild eyes, looking slightly unhinged. When she rolled backwards on paint cans with that same grin, I half expected her to start slinging paint all over the audience and gallery. I liked that feeling where the moment had the potential to go in a violent direction (at least I liked it from the back of the room where I was safe).
Another instance was the ending where Emily Johnson removes the top half of her dress and sits in the row of chairs with a scarf over her head. We cannot see her face. The side view of her bare shoulders suggested an almost doctor's appointment-room vulnerability and she disappeared into anonymity. It was a small, lonely and successful image.
There were some exciting movement phrases executed (I say executed because there was an exactness and clarity to them which seemed fitting to the characters based on their attention to detail in dress) both upstage and down. I remember angles and long lines on the diagonal and some air time. They performed these phrases with the same cool and calm exterior that permeated the majority of the piece.
Lastly, Jessica Cressey's first time sticking her head into the wall cavity (which I'd never knew existed before that night) was brilliant and unexpected. It reminded me of a dumbwaiter chamber and echoed the initial impression I had of these mysterious women as somehow related, living in a giant antique house. When her head disappeared into the wall I imagined her looking down into the basement. That must be where they keep the bodies.