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Matthew Maguire's dance-theater piece about the battle of the sexes fails to shock or seduce. logo
Jeff Barry and Alexis McGuinness in Abandon
(© Peter Bellamy)
As co-artistic director of Creation Production Company, which debuted at La MaMa in 1977, Matthew Maguire -- the playwright/director of Abandon, CPC's latest work to show there -- professes an urge "to generate new forms of theatre ... seamlessly integrating the visual arts, music, dance, technology, and architecture."

Despite the efforts of a promising young cast, however, there are two big problems with the show. The style of cross-disciplinary experimentation that might have seemed avant-garde in the late 1970s doesn't necessarily amount to great shakes in the theatre world today -- especially not when the scale is small and homespun, as it is, of necessity, at La MaMa. Furthermore, with its nonstop parade of stylized gesticulation, Abandon falls so squarely into the straight dance camp that to call it theater constitutes a case of bait-and-switch.

The dialogue here is minimal (a couple of dozen lines are spoken in the course of 70 uninterrupted, exhaustively choreographed minutes), and the story line is at once wispy and Gothically heavy-handed. Helena (Alexis McGuiness) is a young woman who exhibits a fear of relationships; we can tell this because her movements are rigid and she engages in the occasional silent howl. It is gradually, grudgingly revealed that, as a child, she was exposed to a traumatizing incident involving a meat-packing plant, a pair of romantic rivals, and a cleaver.

Maybe her father (longtime Creation collaborator Michael Ryan) was the attacker, but that's not entirely clear. In any case, Helena's mother went mad and had to be institutionalized -- a fate that her sister Marguerite (Genevieve Odabe, a good dancer and honest presence) threatens Helen with if she doesn't stop staring obsessively at her hands and get with the program. The women, plus the family housekeeper Kaline (tall, imposing Victoire Charles), all eventually reveal a decided dominatrix bent. Much of the action, which takes place before projected images of Maguire's not especially imaginative collages and is set to Andrew Ingkavet's derivative music, consists of a protracted war of the sexes.

Ultimately, Helena's boyfriend, Axel (Jeff Barry), manages to gentle her -- his adoring ministrations are truly touching -- and another earnest young man, Max (Richard Prioleau), pairs off with Marguerite, who's not as nice and purely solicitous as she initially seems. "Either give yourself to a man, the next one who asks you," she snaps at Helena, "or I'll tell everyone you're a whore." That's about it for shock value, unless you count the father licking the housekeeper's boot.

Even if you wanted to take this piffle at all seriously, you'd have to fault Maguire's "male gaze" for delimiting women's possible roles to that of frigid hysteric or dangerous seducer. (All three women engage in an artsy hootchie-kootchie dance before an image of Judith beheading Holofernes, or perhaps it's Salome.) But even that degree of interpretation of this perverse gavotte would entail too much significance.

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