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Karen Finley in Shut Up and Love Me
(Photo: Donna Ann McAdams)
From our first glimpse of the outline of bikini panties under her stretched satin dress, her body gyrating to a Barry White classic, we can see that performance artist extraordinaire Karen Finley is all woman, all sex, all the time in her latest masterpiece, Shut Up and Love Me. Finley begins her hour-plus show with not only a finger-licking homage to self love but also a salute to her mammary glands that will surely repulse some people while sending others into fits of celebration.

A transfer from P.S. 122, the Westbeth production of Shut Up and Love Me has been re-envisioned and re-staged by Finley for a bigger, brighter audience yearning to be set free while listening to sexually explicit monologues. Karen Finley is a true wordsmith, and even though some of her monologues might tend to sputter at the start, she is a powerhouse speaker who uses her voice as if she were a one-woman rock 'n' roll band. A rare exotic bird along the lines of an earthier Sandra Bernhard (why do these girls try to dance in stiletto heels while making their points?), Finley is an oratory giant.

Shut Up and Love Me is a collection of monologues about people looking for sex. Most of the show's speeches are given while Finley is sprawled across a Victorian couch right out of Grande Odalisque by Inges. Finley presents to us an America controlled by the new holy trinity: Colin, Bush, and Dick. As a member of the holy four that also included Tim Miller, Holly Hughes, and John Fleck, Finley lost her NEA funding on grounds of indecency in 1990 and later sued that organization. That was then and this is now, but Finley hasn't changed a bit; at one point, she slams Mayor Rudy and his "decency commission" as her fingers wander south for more self-stimulated pleasure.

Finley's stories are urbane and scathing. A woman pleads with her father to have sex with her. There's blood and carnage, rage and anger, and an array of accents and characters interwoven into Finley's very controlled, well-thought-out rampages. At one point during the show, she even uses a traditional podium as if she were an evangelist preaching both the joys and the sometimes dire consequences of sex.

Moving to center stage at one point like a lamb going to slaughter, Finley disrobes and stands naked as three willing patrons pour tall pitchers of honey onto a shimmering inflated bed that seems to be backlit by glow sticks, the sensual creation of lighting designer Josh Monroe and set designer Zeke Leonard. Taking an anything but cautionary dive, Finley leaps into her finale. With the room smelling of sweet honey and with Barry White once again providing the musical accompaniment, Finley let's us in on her dirty little secret, her sweet catharsis: The pure essence of womanhood lies not within bare bones and body but, rather, in the omnipotent power of sexual release. Gasping for air, straining to see through eyes stuck together, Finley spurts warm honey from her groin and through her fists. It's a rare stage image not to be matched by anyone soon.

Karen Finely is the high priestess of performance art. She must be heard, and her words and actions will long be remembered.

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