The Brief but Exemplary Life of the Living Goddess | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Brief but Exemplary Life of the Living Goddess 

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THE BRIEF BUT EXEMPLARY LIFE OF THE LIVING GODDESS, Halcyone Productions, at the Organic Theater Company Greenhouse, South Hall. When the exalted office of Living Goddess is vacated, a small-town girl is selected from hundreds of candidates to become the next icon of virginity. At first the healthy, headstrong child struggles to conform to the behavior required of perfection, but gradually she gets the hang of it--so when a revolution drives her from her throne to fend for herself, her survival skills are badly atrophied.

Neena Beber's The Brief but Exemplary Life of the Living Goddess is obviously meant to be a metaphor, but for what? It remains as enigmatic as the koanic rules of conduct that so cripple its title character. Is it an allegory of female coming-of-age? A parody of Miss America pageants? A guide to rediscovering one's childhood? The history of feminism told in a fractured fairy tale? And what are we to make of the protagonist's obsession with ichthyology and bicycles? Fortunately, Andrea Urice directs Beber's symbol-saturated script in an arch, artificial style cartoonish and kinetic enough to be entertaining in itself. Similarly, the excellent cast--Mary Cross as the innocent and spunky heroine, Ron Wells and Deirdre Waters as six pairs of authority figures, Ale Weinberg and Kristen Swanson as a total of 11 commoners--affect a deadpan comedy-of-manners brittleness.

If it weren't for two brief moments of PG-rated sex and violence, Living Goddess might have made an amusing children's show (Beber is head writer for a Nickelodeon television series). But all it offers to adult audiences is the opportunity to watch a troupe of talented artists attempt to anchor a story as slippery as one of the Living Goddess's rare fish.

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