Troupe tries different approaches

THEATER

Collective offers `Communitas'

January 09, 2003|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

I always had half of my body in dance and half in theater and my head in music, so then I never really fit," says Naoko Maeshiba.

The Washington-based director and performer is explaining how she happened to create the Naoko Maeshiba Performance Collective, which will perform its inaugural work, Communitas, at the Theatre Project this weekend.

A native of Kobe, Japan, Maeshiba was studying for her doctorate in social linguistics at the University of Hawaii when she got sidetracked by theater and dance. She ended up with an MFA instead of a Ph.D. In 1999 she was awarded a fellowship in directing at Arena Stage and moved to Washington.

Although she directs traditional plays in the Washington area, where she is co-artistic director of Tsunami Theatre Company, Maeshiba was eager to develop a non-traditional troupe.

She launched the multi-disciplinary Performance Collective last February. The idea of a collective appealed to her because she wanted the performers to be part of the creative process. The way the collaboration works, she explains, is that she comes up with a structure and theme, and the performers contribute material through improvisation.

In the case of Communitas, she was inspired by anthropologist Victor Turner's 1969 book The Ritual Process. In the book, Turner defines "communitas," in part, as "a communion of equal individuals." It's a definition that might also apply to Maeshiba's collective.

In creating the piece, Maeshiba says she found herself thinking not only about how communities are formed, but also about the problems that inhibit them - "like aging, like haves-and-have-nots, like youth violence."

All of these are explored in the work. But instead of traditional dialogue, the performers relate to the audience through a combination of music and rhythm, traditional Japanese Noh theater, contemporary Japanese dance and theater, and western movement theater.

Communitas debuted at Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage in May and has subsequently been performed at sites ranging from Towson University to the Hirschhorn Sculpture Garden. Maeshiba, who is one of 11 performers in the piece, says the collective continues to work on it and "will keep training and exploring even after this."

Show times at the Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St., are 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10. Call 410-752-8558.

A hip-hop mix

Also at the Theatre Project, Baltimore performance artist Joyce Scott will emcee an evening of local comedy and hip-hop jazz titled The Nu World Comedy Show at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 17 and 18. The variety-style program will include performances by the hip-hop band Cirius B; singer Maimouna Youssef; and several spoken-word artists. Comedian Queen Aishah will headline the Jan. 17 show; the headliner on Jan. 18 will be Brenda-O.

Nu World Comedy is produced by WombWork Productions. Tickets are $15. Call 410-338-0265.

A life in song

Things That Lovers Do, a new touring show starring husband-and-wife R&B singers Kenny Lattimore and Chante Moore, will play two engagements at the Lyric Opera House, Jan. 21-26 and March 18-23.

Written for the couple by Javon Johnson, the musical features Lattimore and Moore performing songs from their newest recording, which includes such pop hits as Lionel Ritchie's "Still" and the Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell standard "You're All I Need to Get By." The CD is scheduled to be released by Arista Records next month under the same title as the show.

Loosely based on the couple's life, the plot focuses on an up-and-coming performer whose "perfect" life hits some snags. Direction and choreography are by George Faison, a Tony Award-winning choreographer whose credits include several productions at Center Stage. Also featured in the cast are Clifton Powell (Next Friday) and Kym Whitley (UPN's Sparks).

Show times at the Lyric, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave., are 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 7 p.m. Fridays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $18.50-$32. Call 410-481-7328.

One-woman show

Last year, Canadian-based actress, writer and comedian Deb Filler baked a loaf of challah on stage at the Theatre Project as part of Filler Up, her show about food, self-acceptance and family relationships. Now she's returning to town, this time to the Gordon Center, to perform an earlier work, Punch Me in the Stomach.

Also a one-woman show, Punch Me was inspired by a 1990 trip that Filler, a New Zealand native, took to the Eastern European concentration camps with her father, an Auschwitz survivor. The show concludes back home in New Zealand where Filler portrays the dozens of relatives who gathered to give her father a surprise birthday party. Co-written and directed by Alison Summers, Punch Me in the Stomach was produced off-Broadway in 1992 and subsequently made into a film.

Show times at the Gordon Center, 3506 Gwynnbrook Ave., Owings Mills, are 8 p.m. Jan. 18 and 3 p.m. Jan. 19. Tickets are $19. Call 410-356-7469.

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