Grapefruit | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader


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Hidden Theatre

at At the Gallery

Grapefruit is subtitled "a minimalist carnival," which at first seems an oxymoron. Yet this production is both bountiful and stripped-down, a low-tech amusement arcade filled with curious things to see and do, through which the audience rambles like so many Alices confronted with a postmodern Wonderland. The Hidden Theatre has "responded" to Yoko Ono's recipes for kinetic interactive art projects by executing a remarkable 56 of them, adding their own whimsical touches.

Our ramble begins in the outer room of the playing space, which we enter by descending--no, not a rabbit hole but a flight of basement steps. This area is decorated with such tableaux as "Kitchen Piece"--a stove placed against a white background, accompanied by the instructions "When finished cooking, throw the leftovers at the wall" (a pot of tomato sauce and a ladle are provided). "Painting to Shake Hands" consists of a canvas from which a hand protrudes invitingly, "Painting to See the Room" has a peephole through which we may view the gallery, and "Blood Piece" is made up of a blank canvas flanked by tools for piercing or cutting--presumably the object is to make a painting with one's own blood. The art is not all static, however--one "Conversation Piece" is initiated by a woman carrying a cigarette tray containing "artifacts," mostly garments, each of which has a "history" for sale.

Eventually the audience is brought into the adjoining theater, and a troupe of Berlin cabaret-style entertainers takes the stage. No sooner do we sit down, however, than an audience member is called up to assist emcee Francois Avoirdupois LeFormidable in some sleight of hand. Subsequent feats of legerdemain are performed by the other members of the company. The Man of a Thousand Wounds and the Friendliest Hand (whom we have met before as the "Painting to Shake Hands") play a song on the Melodica, the former supplying the lung power and the latter the digits. Mademoiselle Hypnotica Mesmer guesses the location of a concealed coin. The rest of the cast includes Nanette (the peddler of artifact histories), clown-mime Kino, and later the ingenuous Courtney, who calls for an end to the presentation.

Whereupon the audience is led back into the front gallery for some interactive pieces based on the so-called sensitivity exercises popular in the 1960s. For example, "Breath Piece" has a circle of people deep-breathing while touching one another's diaphragms, and one "Fly Piece" involves a person being lifted into the air by the others--the title derives from their collective shout of "Fly!" when the aviator spreads his or her arms to indicate that flight has been achieved. Two-propeller and free-fall fly pieces are demonstrated by the performers. The participatory "Whisper Piece" is based on the familiar "Telephone" game, and in "Touch Poem for a Group of People" one person stands in the center of a circle and leans into the others' supporting arms, trusting them to keep him or her more or less vertical. The end of the show is signaled by the "Hide-and-Seek Piece," in which the performers are directed to "hide until the audience leaves." ("I feel rejected!" protested one audience member.)

There is no denying the exhilaration of being drawn into this kind of naive, non-goal-oriented exploration. (Even therapy groups have moved away from what are now derided as "touchy-feely" activities toward more cerebral--and passive--exercises. Not surprisingly, one of the Hidden Theatre ensemble members is a former psychotherapist.) The performers make every effort to include the spectators--but the bashful are never forced into the spotlight nor the enthusiastic into the shadows, as they are in many other audience-participation shows. And while comfortable clothing and physical flexibility may be helpful, they are not necessary. (A company member told me that a senior citizens' group had flown and dived and waded through water and sand without hesitation or discomfort.) Theater purists may argue whether Grapefruit can be called drama by any Aristotelian definition, but those secure enough to abandon decorum will probably have too much fun to care.


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