The lesbian brain

Great acting saves Echo Theatre's Body from becoming a short course on feminist studies

These quibbles float to the surface a while after you've seen Echo's production, which upon first viewing has a visceral kick to it that keeps you laughing and engaged and following these characters around, even if you finally understand the ultimate destination is perambulation. Pam Myers-Morgan, who directed Susan Sontag's similarly amorphous script Alice in Bed for Wingspan Theatre, has impressed me once again with her ability to carve her actors' performances into the human shapes the author didn't necessarily write. She has reversed stage and audience space at the Bath House Cultural Center and arranged her actors effectively into every nook and cranny of the small stage. Again, Jo Schellenberg and Linda Comess seem to me shortchanged by roles that feel like devices, but they acquit themselves marvelously, especially Comess, who has an Estelle Parsons-like ability to mix archness and lunacy. Schellenberg, meanwhile, makes distraction sexy. Linda Marie Ford uses nervous laughter well in the early flirtation and seduction scenes with Schellenberg, and the pair of them share a chemistry you can taste and smell. The role of Mary was clearly written as the play's tour de force, a move that normally makes me look for any excuse to dislike the character. Kelly Thomas really does tour Mary forcefully, but with enough thoughtful comic timing, especially in her conversations with sister Lili, that we can share breathing room with her. Indeed, Echo's entire cast manages to take great bracing lungfuls of Claire Chafee's language without drifting away on the high from that oxygen and helium cocktail.

Why We Have a Body runs through January 30. Call (214) 824-7169.

Banter
Teatro Dallas artistic director Cora Cardona explains her philosophy toward life and art--one she wishes all people would adopt--as a little gustatory fable she herself experienced.

"I was traveling in Ecuador with two Dallas actors," she says, "and I ordered a dish that was very common in the pre-Hispanic era. Back then, the people ate reptiles, insects, whatever. What I ordered was an animal called cui about this big"--she spreads two hands out to the size of a poodle--"and it still had"--again with her hands, she swoops whiskers out from her cheeks, wrinkles up her nose, and juts her two front teeth out. "The other actors wouldn't touch it. And at first, for me, it was very intense. But it tasted delicious. Finally, they had enough to drink to try it. You have to try everything."

Teatro's Sixth Annual International Theater Festival will be a lot easier to digest than a giant rodent, but Cora invokes this image because she hopes people will be adventurous--especially non-Spanish speakers. The Festival's first offering is Rincón Oscuro, a very physical tale of a married couple beset by shifting values, confusing gender roles, and high technology in the '90s. Acclaimed troupe Teatro Del Norte from Asturias, Spain, will perform Etelvino Vazquez's script. Yes, it's all in Spanish, but the intensely disciplined movement and loud visuals tell the tale to those who don't talk the talk.

"'Theatriste' is a new word being bandied about in Latin America," Cardona says. "It refers to individual artists who come up with their own techniques after studying the masters in groups and the past rituals of their cultures. It's sort of anthropological theater, but also modern. The influence of a very hot director who emphasizes intense physical training, Eugenio Barba, hangs over this production."

As far as the November fire that cost Teatro Dallas more than $50,000 in lost equipment, Cardona is still saddened but grateful that North Dallas High School, built in the '20s, has offered them a temporary home. The school auditorium's technical setup is, in fact, mostly superior to the Commerce stage--the flying space, or extensive area above the stage that allows whole sets and props to be raised and lowered, reflects an era of bigger, more ambitious productions. And since Dallas audiences are accustomed to seeing professional theater in basements, churches, lofts, warehouses, and even bakeries, surely a fully equipped high school isn't too much of a leap. Still, Teatro continues seeking a more permanent space. As Cardona has put it before: "If I have to go out and build a theater with my own two hands, I will."

Cardona has never been afraid to do the dirty work of theater business. Let's hope a philanthropist interested in controversial theater steps in so she doesn't get splinters in her hands from hauling plywood.

Rincon Oscuro opens the International Festival January 29 and 30, 8:15 p.m. Call (214) 303-1833.

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