Shut Up and Love Me! | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Shut Up and Love Me! 

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Somebody called Karen Finley the "ultimate black sheep." Somebody else called her "America's problem child." She's famous as the chocolate-smeared woman Jesse Helms used as a prime example of the depravity subsidized by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. She's also famous as one of the NEA Four, who sued the endowment when it got scared and tried to rescind those grants. I'd say she's always been pretty interesting--and my perspective on this goes as far back as Evanston Township High School circa 1970, where Finley participated in what may very well have been her first messy performance piece. During the 80s I probably saw her naked more often than any woman other than my wife. Finley was living in Chicago, making irresponsible use of peanut butter, yams, and--yes--chocolate syrup, creating and performing the ferociously obscene pieces that would earn (truly, earn) Helms's wrath. At the time I thought of her as much more than an artist or performer. I considered her an oracle. The monologues that accompanied her dead serious food fights channeled a rage so pure as to be archetypal. Kali-like. She seemed to be spoken through rather than speaking, and there was a sense that whoever was possessing her cared nothing about the consequences for anyone present. Chocolate was the least thing you might come away spattered with. In the years since, Finley has assumed gentler personas, including that of mother. I've seen her be positively demure. But the piece she'll be bringing us this weekend and next, Shut Up and Love Me!, sounds like a return to basic principles. She calls it a "post-feminist illustrative performance of a woman's journey of dysfunctional companionship and psycho-sexual lust without apology." It's the phrase "without apology" that leads me to suggest you see it with psychic galoshes on. Just in case. Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln, 773-935-6100. Through April 12: Fridays, 10:30 PM; Saturdays, 11:30 PM. $29.50.

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