Lies, Damn Lies, and Bad Cigars; Anais Nin: To Be a Woman | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Lies, Damn Lies, and Bad Cigars; Anais Nin: To Be a Woman 

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LIES, DAMNED LIES, AND BAD CIGARS

at Dancetech

The two are worlds apart: Samuel Clemens, 19th-century American humorist; Anais Nin, 20th-century French writer of erotica. But they do have one thing in common: each intends to discover the truth. What's amazing is that their quests should take them down such different paths. In his homespun, witty way, Twain strips American society of its hypocrisies. In her deeply sensual way, Nin disrobes her own soul. Clemens's clever observations might make you laugh with delight; Nin's rich language might make your skin tingle with pleasure.

It seems that Clemens carefully created his own public persona. As a public speaker he even wore a costume of sorts--white suit, shirt, tie, and shoes--and gave his persona a name: Mark Twain. He presented himself as an up-front kind of guy who saw beneath the veils of society, and most of his insights were based on a belief that "there are two sets of morals: private and real, and public and artificial." This perspective gave him fodder for some great one-liners: "Always obey your parents . . . when they are around," and "When I was younger, I remembered everything--whether it happened or not," for example.

As the white-suited, cigar-puffing Clemens, John Kevin Forsythe brings out the best of Clemens, highlighting his intelligence and gift for observation. Presented as a public-speaking engagement, Lies, Damned Lies, and Bad Cigars has the atmosphere of an old-fashioned ice-cream social. Forsythe chats amiably with the audience, throws out his one-liners, and creates in us a nostalgia for simpler, more innocent times.

ANAIS NIN: TO BE A WOMAN

European Repertory Company
at the Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ, Baird Hall

Nin, on the other hand, was distinctly European. A daughter of the Freudian era, she sought the truth not by observing others but by exploring herself. Her best writings are contained in her diaries, in which she wrote prodigiously from age 11 and which she published late in her life.

A play adapted from the diaries of a famous erotica writer can't help but have a certain allure, all but promising an honest observation of sexuality, a golden seed of knowledge from a woman with a reputation as an expert. At the very least it ought to deliver some gossip about Nin's relationship with Henry Miller. But Katie Dawson's adaptation gives us Nin in a teaspoon. No wisdom, no insight, no gossip. Just a synopsis, basically, of Nin's life: at age 17 she entered Columbia University; soon after, she met her husband. And so on.

When the play is made up of the author's own words, you'd think some of the author's personality would shine through. But Dawson, who also portrays Nin, seems a character right out of a Mark Twain novel--she's perky, cheery, and determined, a small-town American girl, not at all French, not at all intellectual, and not at all sensual. Part of Dawson's problem is that she condenses Nin's 11 volumes of journal entries into one 45-minute play. If she had focused on a single salient period of Nin's life, she might have been able to explore the writer's intellect and emotions more deeply. There's not much to think about in this play: whatever truths Nin discovered in her writings are lost in Dawson's adaptation.

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