THE SISTER PLATFORM
Marcia Wilkie, Cheryl Trykv, and Lawrence Steger
at the Blue Rider Theatre, June 13
The name "The Sister Platform"--describing a program at the Blue Rider conceived and executed by Marcia Wilkie, Cheryl Trykv, and Lawrence Steger--suggests at the most a collaboration, and at the least thematic links. But in actuality this hour-long show consisted of three very distinct performances, and the sister motif proved fairly elusive. Wilkie's piece "Sister" certainly came closest to addressing the subject of sisterhood, and Trykv's stories about women making connections clearly suggested sisterly bonds. Steger's rendition of August Strindberg's The Stronger proved to be, if not an evil-sister story, certainly a bitchy one--raising a handful of curatorial and political questions.
Wilkie began the program with "Enough," a sentimental monologue about being satisfied with small pleasures--indeed, about being overwhelmed by the magnitude of things otherwise. In other hands the piece might not have worked at all--it requires an earnestness that escapes most performance artists--but Wilkie is genuinely engaging. We believe her; we might even wish we could share her feelings.
Her charm can't disguise or otherwise smooth over the tragic flaw in "Enough," however. Through most of it "enough" refers to pleasure; a quick glimpse of the Grand Canyon was enough for Wilkie, as was a postcard of a masterwork hanging at the Art Institute. But then the piece suddenly--and I'd say pretty gratuitously--introduces AIDS: Wilkie says she saw three men with canes in a cash-station line in San Francisco. The image is too weighty, too sudden, and too anomalous emotionally to work.
Wilkie performed several other pieces, including "Sister," the terrific story she debuted at this spring's Big Goddess Pow Wow. This monologue--about love and rejection, rivalry and obligation, friendship and loyalty--may be Wilkie's finest writing to date. In it she's vulnerable, funny, and sophisticated in her use of metaphor and imagery. The piece works particularly well given Wilkie's heartfelt persona.
Unlike Wilkie, Trykv is dark, ironic, even sarcastic onstage. Her approach is also becoming less and less theatrical. Where once she stood and delivered her intense, personal monologues from memory, her recent outings have revealed more of a writerly approach. At Randolph Street Gallery last month Trykv stood and read from a script on a music stand; at the Blue Rider she eschewed all pretensions of theatricality and simply sat and read from a manuscript.
Her work has also changed dramatically. "Teen Getaway," a hilarious tale about meeting Shirley Booth (TV's "Hazel") while on a dreary Palm Springs vacation with her parents, has been edited into sharper focus: gone is the cutesy introduction comparing Booth and Lucille Ball, for example. In "Birthday Party," which chronicles a daughter's difficult relationship with a self-absorbed mother, Trykv avoids the easy punch lines and instead explores the characters with much greater depth and feeling than she's previously shown. In "Promenade," she dumps the first person and gives us a look at the friendships and problems of a handful of women in a nursing home.
In contrast to Wilkie and Trykv, Steger did not present original material. Working with Strindberg's 1889 monologue, he tried not for revelation but for inversion. Dressed in an elaborate late-19th-century grande-dame dress (designed by John Darmour), Steger played the role of a spurned and vengeful wife.
And this is where the problem arose. While Wilkie and Trykv's work showed some thematic continuity, Steger's piece disrupted it--in both style and emotional resonance. Wilkie and Trykv both attained a certain level of affirmation, particularly for women; but it was difficult to decipher Steger's intentions with The Stronger. He played the role--a woman confronting the former friend who's been her husband's lover--with deadly serious camp. By this I mean he offered no laughs; in fact his portrayal reveled in all the darker elements of--dare I say it?--the worst of drag, in which women are vengeful and petty, pathetic and bitter. The result was a horrible kind of misogyny. Not even Steger's considerable charisma could prevent this effect.
If Steger intended this piece to be seen differently--as a man in a dress feeling hurt, etc--it also fell short. Putting a dress on (even one as fabulous as Darmour's) does not automatically transform the misogyny. It does not make it political. It does not make it interesting, at least for more than a minute or so.
Indeed, a more provocative staging of this piece--not particularly well written by Strindberg in the first place--would have been to play it as a boy in T-shirt and jeans. A more incisive deconstruction of gender, and a greater sense of irony, might have been the result.