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      A Mammal's Notebook: The Erik Satie Cabaret
    Lightly Satie-ed

    "A Mammal's Notebook: The Satie Cabaret" celebrates the ever-popular works of ever-popular composer Erik Satie with text, live music, masks and puppetry.


    It takes a witty man to write catchy tunes. Quirky Erik Satie (1866-1925) is the subject of a lively sixteen-scene revue at La MaMa E.T.C.'s Annex space. Great Small Works and pianist Margaret Leng Tan do the honors of introducing Satie's personality. And an odd one at that, even among the Parisian avant-garde of a century ago.

    Written by: Great Small Works with Margaret Leng Tan.
    Cast: Isaac Bell, John Bell, Trudi Cohen, Aya Kanai, Stephen Kaplin, Margaret Leng Tan, Alessandra Nichols, Jenny Romaine, Roberto Rossi, Mark Sussman.
    As a composer, Satie is essentially a poor man's Debussy. Uncluttered by nuances, it is the ultimate background music — never less than pleasant. What irked the critics of his day was just what turned on John Cage and the Minimalists in the 1960s. Faucet-seller's music or serendipitous genius? The public has voted in favor of Satie many times over. The three "Gymnopédies" have been his entree to generations, even if they didn't know his name.

    This show presents snippets of Satie's kaleidoscope of pursuits — too incongruous for someone to make up. A humble cabaret hosted his first major gig: Genevieve de Brabant is done up in shadow-puppet style with Margaret Leng Tan providing the piano accompaniment. It's amusingly presented, but ultimately this is a forgettable piece. About this time Satie hooked up with the Rosicrucians, a deliberately obscure sect that matched the composer's penchant for the vague and unintelligible. GSW cast members dress up in fake Orientalist garb to mime his induction ceremony. Rod puppets limn a spastic encounter with model, painter and former trapeze artiste Suzanne Valadon.

    With all these activities, Satie had no time for ideology. He was too busy teaching the natives (that is, his neighbors in the working-class suburb Arcueil just south of Paris proper) how to sing, read and plant trees. Per the show's text he did come to favor socialist causes — ever dear to the Brecht groupies at Great Small Works.

    The Satie character is spread over several persons in the ten-player troupe. Puppetry is generous, with body puppets in the form of giant black and white heads strapped onto the performers the most comical. Among the best moments of the show are Clarinda Mac Low's choreographed opening and closing sequences for the entire cast in period-aping costumes. Tan provides a tour de force on various electronic and acoustic keyboards including her pride, a toy piano.

    At nearly two hours, "A Mammal's Notebook: The Erik Satie Cabaret" needs to become more concentrated to match Satie's wit. Roberto Rossi is the adept narrator, but even he needs to turn up the comic octane in John Bell's direction. Satie is a worthy subject, and the theatrical instincts here are right.

    DECEMBER 26, 2001

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