Playwright: Tina Howe
At: Appetite Theater at the Cultural Center, 77 E. Randolph St.
Phone: ( 312 ) 275-1931; $15
Runs through: March 26
The title refers specifically to an ART museum, where a collection called 'The Broken Silence' features a pair of white-on-white canvases, four collages composed around animal skeletons and a large installation depicting mannequins strung up like laundry on a line. This last is flanked by a basket of wooden clothespins that spectators INSIST on handling, to the chagrin of the lone security guard on this last day of the exhibit.
If Tina Howe's The Art Of Dining proposed an evening at an exclusive restaurant where everything that could happen DOES, Museum expands on that formula to present us with an array of indigenous archetypes: a couple struggling with their taped tour, students with their own agendas, foreigners who declaim loudly in their native languages, a trio of rowdy girls dressed in what appears to be waitress uniforms for a Mexican cantina, stubborn camera-toters, pedantic curators, Hilton sisters-wannabes, name-dropping jet-setters, arrogant philistines, and an acquaintance of the bone-artist who recounts a creepy personal memoir that almost—but not quite—clears the gallery. There is also a primeval-anthropology moment, an anarchic-chaos moment and many reminders of the conflict between aesthetic expression and social decorum.
This panoramic structure is tailor-made for Appetite Theater, its extensive roster of disparate types offering limitless opportunities for individual interpretation. Since Howe tends to editorialize on the state of cultural appreciation in America and Europe ( a necessary measure, perhaps, in a scenario inviting performances from the big-fast-and-loud school of acting ) , the busier personae—Kara Ewinger's Shelleyan wraith with the gothic yarn, for example—are often forced to tread water. But for every larger-than-life caricature awash in actorly excess, there are smartly conceived and neatly executed characterizations like Mark Sharp's stoic security guard or Tom Weber and Jenny Beacraft's French-speaking tourists.
Yes, the drollery of culture vultures makes an easy target for satire. But lest we become complacent in our superiority to these shallow bumpkins, we should also observe the audience members encouraged to view the various art objects while waiting for the show to begin. Of COURSE that wasn't YOU patting the furry DaVinci stylus—was it?