Chalk up one base hit and one wild foul for the theatrical doings at The Washington Project for the Arts this weekend.
The hit was Chasen Gaver, a young Washingtonian who made his WPA debut Friday night in something called "Gizarre Is in the Eye of the Beholder." Gaver is an exponent of "performance poetry," which is like poetry reading heightened into theatrical performance by an infusion of body movement, costumes, lighting, props and sound effects. Gaver, for example, utilized handcuffs, rubber dolls, sunglasses and a telephone, among other things, to enhance a jivey rendering of several dozen of his verses.
The poems, most of them on Gaver's self-confessed favorite topics of sex and or politics, also touched upon the drug experience, the 70s lifestyle, city living and the Metrobus information system. Gaver is gay and frank about it - and a recurring motif of the recitation was sexual identity. Like the poems themselves. Gaver's delivery - with its stacatto flourishes and "neon beat" (his phrase) - had an engaging impudence that held attention even when the content seemed trifling or obscure.
The foul was "To Charlie - Hello From Bertha," a multi-media "project" presented Saturday and Sunday evenings by New York's Giannini Theater company. Incidental skits, films, slides and a one-act play by Tennessee Williams were involved in the happening, intended as a non-doctrinaire exploration of the prostitution phenomenon.
The result, however, wasn't stimulus but incoherence. The actor's lines were often unintelligible. The action, taking place on three sides of the spectator, was invisible to most of the audience. The projections were unfocused and out of syne with the sound. In short, instead of illuminating the subject, this mishmash cast only a pall of pretention and ineptitude.