Comedy's woven through 'Big Shows'

October 10, 1997|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

The intriguingly named troupe Safer and Secrest is a New York movement theater company named for founders Daniel Safer and Leigh Secrest. But judging from the area premiere at the Theatre Project, this company not only doesn't play it safe, but presents work that is at times mysterious enough to qualify as secret (if not quite "secrest").

The founders, who also direct and choreograph, are two of the five performers who appear in the triple-bill of one-acts titled "Really Big Shows."

Though parts of the production seem mysterious, they are united by humor and the common theme of satirizing motion pictures.

The most effective -- and least complex -- piece is the middle work, "Calamity," a spoof of "Calamity Jane" in which Jennifer A. Cooper, Gwen Snyder and Secrest portray female gunslingers.

Dressed in chaps with fabric six-shooters sewn on the sides, they engage in macho cowboy moves. At one point, one twirls an invisible lasso while perched on another's shoulders. Later in this ZTC acrobatic piece, two of them polish off the third with a back flip.

The title of the third piece, "Max Schreck's Really Big Show," refers to the German star of F. W. Murnau's 1922 silent horror film, "Nosferatu." A send-up of various Dracula movies, the piece features the production's two male performers (Jonathan Pascoe and Safer) in Dracula garb, which, in this case, includes gauzy black shirts with elongated collar points that look like bloody fangs.

Secrest plays the damsel whose purity of heart leads to Dracula's undoing, and Cooper is apparently her friend, although dwelling on such fine plot points only leads to confusion in a work that, stylistically, suggests a highly choreographed combo of "Young Frankenstein" and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

Compensating for the storytelling shortcomings are several lovely comic effects, among them, a toy train suspended overhead that represents the Count's trip to Transylvania, and Secrest's sleep-walking levitation (achieved by walking across the tops of black chairs on a nearly dark stage).

The opening work, "I Am Joe's Spleen," is the longest and least successful. Combining a science-fiction thriller with educational science films on health and evolution, it intercuts among all three.

The evolution film includes titles such as "The 1st Land Animals" and "The Rule of the Reptiles," which give the performers a chance to execute comic movements ranging from slithering to survival-of-the-fittest combat.

The health film soundtrack announces: "Joe works hard and so does his body. I should know. I'm his spleen" (or "heart" or "lungs," depending on which organ is being discussed). The costumes evoke an average Joe -- gray trousers, white shirts and ties -- but this particular filmstrip lacks any especially creative choreography. This problem also affects the sci-fi portion of the piece, which consists primarily of performers who look and act like mad scientists.

What's the point? Maybe that B-movies are an art form. Or hilarious camp. Or trash. What comes across most is a salute to pop culture that seems to say: "Hey, don't take life so seriously." All that's missing is popcorn.

'Really Big Shows'

Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

When: 8 p.m. today and tomorrow, 3 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $14

Call: 410-752-8558

Pub Date: 10/09/97

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