Eye Candy

The photographs that some theater companies send to promote their plays are dreadful enough to send anyone not dedicated to supporting local stage arts screaming for the hills like hammy actors from a high school production of The Sound of Music. At worst, there's an exit sign, a hanging mike and a light rack pulling attention away from the actors. At best, there's a group of people standing around in funny clothes either gesturing melodramatically or with mouths half-open like Venus flytraps closing in for the kill. Either way, we surmise, the box office's phone circuits aren't exactly burning up as a result.

They ought to take a lesson from Our Endeavors Theater Company, whose photographs--like the plays directors Scott Osbourne and Patti Kirkpatrick produce twice yearly--are visual feasts set with the eye-catching makeup, costumes and sets that make Our Endeavors' stage presentations as optically stimulating as they are mentally. The group made Edward Gorey's dark illustrations come alive in the whimsical, twisted sets of its Gorey Stories and turned actors into shimmering insects for Federico Garcia-Lorca's The Butterfly's Evil Spell. And, for the world premiere of its own adaptation of Pedro Almodovar's I, Patty Diphusa, International Sex Symbol, it took the audience into Patty's raunchy world with a fake, shaky-camera porn film and a simulated rape scene.

Now, for its first show of 2002, Our Endeavors is pairing up two of its most visual plays, which were also sold-out showcases at the Bath House Cultural Center's Festival of Independent Theaters the past two years. Called Fortitude & What Happened: 2 Plays for 2 Weeks, the show combines Kurt Vonnegut's 30-minute science fiction piece from FIT 2000 with this year's FIT contribution, What Happened: A Five-Act Play by Gertrude Stein.

Fortitude focuses on the chemical reaction between the mad scientist Dr. Norbert Frankenstein (played again by John Flores) and the 100-year-old disembodied head of Mrs. Sylvia Lovejoy (Cindy Beall) that he keeps floating about for company. To make Mrs. Lovejoy appear as a head resting on top of and attached to a pile of electrical equipment, the actress is hidden in black clothing within the recesses of this contraption of wires, boxes and keyboards. Written originally as a screenplay, Fortitude shows that life without mortality isn't really "life" at all; it's existing.

While Fortitude looks at the relationships between man, nature and technology, What Happened shows human relationships in the setting of a birthday party but without using plot or character descriptions. To add context to What Happened, Our Endeavors has given the party guests in the play the personas of Stein's real friends such as Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso and Stein's lover Alice B. Toklas. (Stein's life was like the party game in which you choose which famous dead people you'd like to have over for dinner). Stein's words are projected on a screen as these 20th-century figures literally dive in and out of Stein's giant bed. With images such as these, the audience gets to have as much fun as the actors doing the pratfalls onstage.

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Shannon Sutlief