"Tongues" and "Savage/Love," two theater pieces born of the off-off-Broadway collaboration between Joseph Chaikin and Sam Shepard, are virtual slivers of minimalism. In each, a solitary performer delivers an interior monologue, punctuated by twangs, whirs, thumps and whines produced by a nearby percussionist.
Staged by the Independent Theatre Project at Washington Perform-ing Art's new Performing Space on Seventh Street NW, the bill makes for a strange, elusive evening--all too elusive, no doubt, to satisfy the ordinary theatergoer. By the same token, this end of the theatrical spectrum is rarely explored in Washington, and there is something to be said for going out on a performing limb even if it bends dangerously.
In "Tongues," a nearly immobile woman (Deirdre Lavrakas), quite possibly speaking from the great beyond, grapples with the notion of death. "There was this moment where I vanished," she says, flatly. Most of her observations--disjointed and fractured in the manner of modern poetry--seem to deal with loss and puzzlement. Somewhat more accessible, "Savage/Love" explores the birth and death of a relationship, as recounted by a man (Christopher Hurt). At one characteristic point, he asks his invisible partner, "Which presentation of myself would make you want to touch? What would make you want to cross the border?"
As the two actors perform them, these pieces can be both startlingly trite and maddeningly obscure. Just when one is ready to abandon hope, though, an insight or an image will suddenly crystallize out of the verbiage, imparting a momentary impression of authenticity. As a whole, "Savage/Love" is more intriguing, probably because Hurt projects an appealing vulnerability that enhances his material. Lavrakas has the starker text and she lacks the rich vocal range that might make her meanderings on death somewhat more mesmerizing.
Both actors perform before neon sculpture by Robert Dick, and while it consists of only a few blue, yellow and red rods suspended in space, the color helps. Still, by the end, one is left with a curious feeling of contradiction that comes from vast philosophical meditations being treated with the sparsest of means. The bill runs through Sunday.