THEATER | A new voice (Julia Elizabeth Babb) and a vet (Julian McFaul) animate Naked Stages at Pillsbury House

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It’s almost not fair to review something like Naked Stages, because that’s not the point.  The Jerome Foundation funds a nine-month commissioning process during which four emerging performance artists are encouraged to develop new work but to concentrate more on the process than the final product.  Of course, there is a final product, but the Naked Stages set-up is focused on the journey rather than the destination. It’s more about the development of an artist, giving them room to explore and new tools for their bag of tricks. Results for an audience may vary. Part one of the performance end of the series is a perfect sampler. March 31 to April 3, the double bill features one of the founders of Bedlam Theatre, Julian McFaul, and Julia Elizabeth Babb, an artist primarily in the realm of photography, collage, poetry, and calligraphy, here making her very first foray into performance art.





naked stages, presented through april 17 (in two separate programs, of which the program reviewed here is one) at pillsbury house theatre. for tickets ($15) and information, see pillsburyhousetheatre.org

Julian McFaul’s piece, Disappearing Trick, is a delight.  It’s the kind of theater that makes you almost giddy watching it. The space is filled with cardboard refrigerator boxes, some scribbled on with chalk, some stabbed with holes, some run through with sticks of wood, all monolithic in size. Armed with a box cutter and stapler, plus some sound and light tricks, McFaul emerges to sculpt a world out of that cardboard right before our eyes. He starts by making himself a podium, which leads to a two stage rocket, which leads to the face of God, which ultimately leads to him stepping inside a box of light and disappearing. All along the way, his personal narrative of the vagaries of space and time bring sometimes dizzying notions of science down to a very human level. After all, science is just another way for humans to try and explain their place in the universe—and concepts like “escape velocity” sometimes just point up the fact that there are some situations from which there is no escape. A nod must also be given to Elise Langer, who plays McFaul’s nemesis; and to his unseen crew of stage grunts who snuck unseen into the boxes and made them move in most amusing ways.


A Fool’s Paradox from Julia Elizabeth Babb was the polar opposite in presentation. The stage was cleared out except for a simple wooden chair laden with a variety of items. In many ways, appearing solo on that bare stage is even more daring. I certainly wouldn’t have the balls to do it. Babb’s story was more directly personal, drawing from her own life experience and struggles with identity. There was a lot of clever word play, both verbally and physically. Ever the calligrapher, Babb painted out the words “IndiviDUAL,” “CommUNITY,” and “UNIesrev” (universe flipped at the halfway point), on a long white roll of paper to map out the continuum of her discussions. There was a fair amount of engaging the inner child, and some audience participation—more like audience interaction, in fact, based on models some might recognize from church settings. Is Babb as skilled in this forum as McFaul, who’s been doing it for years? No, but again that’s not the point. Here’s a woman working way outside her comfort zone, succeeding more often than she stumbles. The thing that kept me engaged was the fact that you could literally hear a new voice on stage taking form. That’s exciting stuff.


Four stars: Highly recommended.