Heaving Shadows at the Skin Show: A Roaring Existentialist Campfire

Local Arts Reviews


Heaving Shadows at the Skin Show:

A Roaring Existentialist Campfire

The Vortex,

through April 15

Running time: 2 hrs, 30 min

How is it that performance artist/writer/director Kerthy Fix, she of "Pussy-Pull" fame, manages to blend bodies, philosophy, and pop culture without being trite? Within the dark, funny realm of her ultra-revealing Heaving Shadows at the Skin Show, Fix manages to combine her endless influences (The Wooster Group, Jean Genet, Loretta Lynn -- all diagrammed in the program for handy reference) into a pleasantly chaotic fairy tale straddling harsh realism and the giddiest dreaminess.

What makes this story of highway death, motel sex, and roadside camaraderie work for the duration of its rather long running time is a cast of actors so gifted and so seemingly comfortable both onstage and with each other that it's like sitting around a roaring existentialist campfire to hear them talk. And talk they do: Tiana Hux's Hitchhiker in a plaintive aggressiveness; Trant Batey's Trucker in a somber, stoic longing; David Sangalli's Hustler in a crushed lilt. All of them so lonely-yet-hopeful you see the shadow of their former little kid-dom and hear sad songs even when they're not singing them. Oh, but they do sing! And dance a little. And wear masks, and fake boobs, and occasionally nothing, gushing presence all the while.

In addition to the core trio are four other characters it's hard to tear your eyes from, terrific lighting, prop-mania, Liv Wildz' array of great bad clothes, David Avery's adept screen projections, music composed by the likes of Gregory John Wildes, Golden Arm Trio, and SXIP, and a live piano player (the divine Laura Phelan). If anything, Fix and her collaborators have too many ideas, and the multiplicity of influences do lie close to the surface (even without the program, you can pretty easily pick out Meredith Monk's choreography, for example). As Fix does more such productions (and it seems inevitable given the promise of this one), one would expect these multiple voices to gain a little more subtlety. And a little less (visual overload and running time) would still be plenty.

This is a small note, though, because in the midst of being almost soap-operatically romantic ("So you fuck me in four states and just leave me on the side of the road?!") and occasionally light (Hitchhiker's dreamscapes include a game show, a strip club, and a movie set), Heaving Shadows manages to genuinely disturb. First, there's the nudity factor (prepare yourself, kids, for more than a couple of limp dicks), but more powerful is the scene in which talented, barely 15-year-old Katy Burnette-Hughes' glitter-shoed, bustier-clad Bird Girl sings about blow jobs. This is wince-worthy, even with Hux's character hovering over her in the audience's stead. Watching said adolescent repeatedly climb a rickety ladder, huge wing prop in hand, to sit at a 10-foot-tall table is likewise nerve-racking for anyone with the merest flicker of a maternal instinct.

But it's supposed to be. Becoming sexual (or sexy) is weird and precarious, very much like a tightrope walk. Some get to the other side, but most of Heaving Shadows' characters are in a perpetual state of free-fall. Fix bares the battle scars of her thusly afflicted characters with humor and a busy, nonlinear aesthetic that will be despised by some and beloved by others. Regardless of where you stand on that score, it would be hard to dispute that currently on view at the Vortex is a show that makes an eloquent, visually elegant, well-acted grab at many facets of the elusive sexuality and intimacy diamond.

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heaving shadows at the skin show, kerthy fix, the possibilities, public domain theatre, robi polgar, howard barker

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