'Domestic Snakes' ponders twists, turns of feminism

November 18, 1992|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic

The set for Karin Abromaitis' one-woman show, "Domestic Snakes," consists of two giant rope sculptures created by Margot Neuhaus. One looks like a humongous spider web suspended in a frame; the other resembles a tangled mass of hair.

Ropes, snakes and hair are intricately interwoven metaphors in this thought-provoking examination of feminine power, currently at the Theatre Project.

But the ropes not only serve a metaphorical function; agile, impish Abromaitis makes highly physical use of them as well. When we first see her, she is caught in the spider web. She then frees herself, only to become entangled in the skein of hairlike rope. She climbs this, swings from it, and even hangs upside down while clinging to it. Sometimes, she seems trapped in the )) tangle; at other times, it becomes a shelter.

Directed by Tom Casciero, "Domestic Snakes" uses a script by the performer that consists of a series of stories in which hair becomes an emblem for everything from strength to servitude.

Besides Anne Sexton's poems, "Rapunzel" and "The Letting Down of the Hair," Abromaitis' eclectic sources include the Bible, mythology, fairy tales and anecdotes from her own past.

In addition to Rapunzel, whose flowing locks offered the only means of entry to her doorless tower, she tells stories about such characters as Medusa with her tresses of snakes, a circus lady who swung from her hair, and a schoolgirl whose hair was so long that her classmates used it to tie her to the playground fence.

Throughout most of this, Abromaitis' head is covered with a baldcap that looks like a torn swim cap. This could be interpreted as an attempt to be free of hair, but it appears to mean just the opposite. As the piece progresses, her own hair slowly emerges, first rolled in rags, then unfurled, and finally, in a glorious concluding image, as part of a huge aureole that spreads out into the strands of the spider web.

So, does hair imprison us or free us? Abromaitis' point seems to be that, like femininity itself, it can do either. The trick is to make it our own, instead of conforming to the dictates of fashion or other people (here she seems to be referring mostly to men).

Washington-based Abromaitis, who performed this work at TowsonState University in 1991, is a replacement for another feminist performance artist, Australian Sarah Cathcart, whose appearance was postponed due to visa difficulties.

"Domestic Snakes" occasionally feels repetitive. (It might gain some variety from the incorporation of music.) But like the Theatre Project's new program of residencies for local theater companies, this unusual work serves as a reminder of the talent close to home.

And after all, what could be more appropriate for the town John Waters once dubbed the "hairdo capital of the world"?


What: "Domestic Snakes."

When: Tonight through Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m.

Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

Tickets: $14.

Call: (410) 752-8558.


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