Last Friday night, the house manager at Dance Theater Workshop stepped onto the stage and asked theatergoers to turn off any beepers, cell phones, fax machines, pagers or microwave ovens they may have brought with them. He then reminded the audience not to record, videotape or photograph the evening's performance of Tere O'Connor's Hi Everybody! "Just watch and pay attention!" he instructed. For the next hour, choreographer/director O'Connor and a versatile cast of six presented a show worthy of the audience's attention.
Appropriately labeled a "dance-play," Hi Everybody! fills the stage of DTW's Bessie Schönberg Theater with a magical mix of movement and dialogue. A gifted choreographer, O'Connor approaches dance with a quirky irreverence without stepping on the toes of those who prefer conventional dance performances.
As the lights come up, O'Connor makes a brief appearance to explain the integrity of the piece. He envisions the work as "poetic, absurdist dance-theater of the obvious." Ignoring their director's intentions, the cast seizes the moment to moan about costumes, the lack of warm-up time, and pulled hamstrings.
Pushing O'Connor off stage, the six appealing dancers discover their bodies are more than lithe vessels of expression. They are flesh and blood--"1,000 characters just waiting to burst out!" Following a barrage of one-liners, bitchy conversation, brilliant dance and poetry, the mood of Hi Everybody! shifts. "This piece needs some drama!" exclaims one dancer. The text, written by O'Connor, then explores homophobia, health care, religion, death, and grief. Despite the move towards "drama," O'Connor maintains the show's light touch with graceful movement, humor, and caustic dialogue. "Do you fags have a sarcastic comment about everything?" asks one of the female dancers.
The men (Rob Besserer, Marc Kenison, and Greg Zuccolo) are highlighted throughout the evening. In one segment, the threesome discusses the recent judgment against same-sex marriage. They protest paying higher taxes for benefits only heterosexual couples receive, and welcome gay bashers into their neighborhoods with a rousing chorus of "Bring a bigger bat, next time, why don't-cha!"
In this intoxicating evening of "theater-slash-dance," which won a Bessie Award in its original incarnation at The Kitchen, the women (Nancy Bannon, Heather Olson and Chrysa Parkinson) occasionally take a back seat to the gay boys' prissy diatribes. One of the female dancers notices the uneven allotment of stage time and protests, "I hate you people--you never let me shine!"
Hi Everybody! features exquisitely trained dancers who are refreshingly adept at comedy and drama. The show is presented as a post-modern Chorus Line, and each person on stage has a story to share. However, the dancers of Hi Everybody! would gladly trade "the music and the mirror" for health insurance and gay equality. Zuccolo nearly steals the show as a fey man referred to only as "poetry boy." Likewise, Parkinson stands out as a woman with cancer whose husband has spent the family's savings on ecological research.
Stop me if the word "fabulous" rolls off my tongue. I try to avoid that word. When "fabulous" does pass my lips, there's usually a slight lisp to the final "s", and the "a" sounds oddly extended. Despite hours spent searching through a thesaurus, though, "faaabuloth" seems to be the best word to describe the wonderfully entertaining Hi Everybody!