KPBS AIRDATE: April 26, 1995
Theater is a not always what it seems. Sometimes, you gear up for a certain kind of evening; you’re expecting a silly little fluff-piece or a radical feminist lesbian screed, and whammo! Whaddaya know, it’s not what you anticipated. I love surprises, especially in the theater.
So, I can happily report that, much more than I expected, I thoroughly enjoyed “”No Minimum” at the Theatre in “Old Town,” and the “Big Goddess Pow Wow” at the Hahn Cosmopolitan Theatre.
The Goddesses only dropped into town for a two-day stay. They’re six Chicago performance artists, touching and funny. The headliner was Nora Dunn, but she wasn’t the standout. It was Cin Salach, a platinum-haired pixie who nearly stole the show.
Dressed in a long black sheath, she did an unbilled opening piece that inveighed against control of personal liberty. “This is America,” she said defiantly. “If you can’t stand the freedom, get out of the country.” Salach’s other two appearances were as one lip of Betty’s Mouth, a poetry duo performance with Sheila Donahue. I’m not sure I could take a whole evening of what they do, but it’s fascinating. They recite and emote, sharing words and lines, alternating thoughts and syllables. With her expressive hands and eyes and body, you can’t take your eyes off Salach. Not an ideal distraction for a duet, but she’s a mesmerizing performer.
The other pieces were by turns funny and moving, especially those by Marcia Wilkie, one about growing up with a sickly sister and another about the admonitions of a mother who makes happiness a lifelong impossibility. Nora Dunn, of “Saturday Night Live” and “Sisters” fame, took on two different characters, so her pieces were less confessional and more topical.
Overall, this was an evening about lives lived, not about feminism or lesbianism or any other ism. If it comes again next year (it’s become an annual Chicago event), don’t miss it.
And you still have time to catch “No Minimum” at the Theatre in Old Town, a sendup of every second-rate lounge act in every seventh-string city in America. It’s goofy, sometimes a little stale, and has no real social value, except paying tribute to the way thousands of reptilian performers slither through performance slime, just to earn a living. That’s entertainment.
April Winchell and Roy Leake, Jr., who wrote the piece and perform it, certainly know their ten easy targets. There’s clearly affection in their portrayals, despite the fact that all their women are disgruntled and all their men are self-aggrandizing.
There’s the too-long-married Steve and Edie clones, Nick and Vicki, playing in perpetuity at the Lackawanna Plaza Hotel in Scranton, PA. At the Kibbutz Room in Miami, we meet the Chai-Lo’s, those outrageous, Alzheimerish octogenarians who never quit, Bunny Gold and Morty Pineman. Then there’s the bluesy, blowzy and besotted Do’Reen, weeping over her Wurlitzer in The Spare Room, a Texas bowling alley bar. And don’t forget the singing Cruller family, formerly a brood, now pared down to a duo. Miraculously, amazingly, all this show biz flotsam and jetsam are interconnected, and they all convene for a gala farewell performance at the end of the evening.
James May’s score is ideally derivative, Joel Paley’s direction is crisp, and Winchell and Leake are very talented; she’s especially versatile. Even if you’ve never been to the Lackawanna Lounge, you’ll give these screwball acts a warm welcome. So come on, put your hands together and go greet some of my very close personal friends… appearing now at the Theatre in Old Town. And don’t forget…. they love ya, Babe.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1995 Patté Productions Inc.