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  •  REVIEW: ECCO PORCO

      Ecco Porco
    Behold the man

    "Ecco Porco" is an alternately exciting and tedious character study, mind-teasing in its best moments but self-consciously overbearing in its worst.

    By FRANK EPISALE
    Offoffoff.com


    There is little question that "Ecco Porco" is a unique theatrical experience. Over the course of four hours, the audience is treated to a Bunraku-style puppet named John who masturbates while having phone sex with a dog, a flying tantric sex therapist, a heartfelt monologue from Marge Simpson, and a piggish man named Porco who re-enacts scenes from the lives of Meyerhold and Orson Welles.

    ECCO PORCO
    Written and directed by: Lee Breuer.
    Cast: Frederick Neumann, Ruth Maleczech, Karen Kandel, Maude Mitchell, Honora Fergusson, Barbara Pollitt, Jane Catherine Shaw, Clove Galilee, Terry O'Reilly, Sarah Provost, Judson Wright, Arva Shirazi, Black Eyed Susan, Daniel Kundi, Jay Peck, Jennifer Wineman, Carol Binion, Christopher Voss, Wah Mohn, and Liam Fistos.
    Choreography by: Clove Galilee, Carlos De Chey.
    Music by: Bob Telson, Eve Beglarian, Casey Neel.
    Production Design: Manuel Lutgenhorst.
    Violence: Felix Ivanov.
    Sound Design: Eric Shim.
    Costume Design: Elizabeth Bourgeois.

     SCHEDULE
    P.S. 122
    150 First Ave. at 9th St.
    Jan. 3-27, 2002

      
    Lee Breuer's newest "animation" is alternately exciting and tedious, with flashes of undeniable brilliance interrupted by long stretches of self-indulgence and pretension. The primary setting is a drama-therapy workshop for performers. Some of these performers are human, others are animal and several are some combination of the two. All the narratives of the play are born out of this therapy.; the actors play roles within roles, the characters projecting themselves into other characters, acting out ideas and fantasies, exorcizing demons from their pasts, etc. This structure allows for monologues and scenes that reference a dizzying array of cultural and philosophical icons, giving the impression that Mr. Breuer wants to write a play about Everything.

    There are two central characters: Gonzo Porco, Ph.D., and Rose the Dog. Rose is played by four actresses and two puppets. Each actress represents a different stage of Rose's story, her painful and obsessive sexual relationship with a man named John. Porco, (the impressive Frederick Newmann) is apparently an artist of some kind. He draws parallels between himself and Nietzsche, Meyerhold, Orson Welles and others, projecting himself as these characters, moving from persona to tortured persona.

      
      At its best, "Ecco Porco" is an intellectual carnival. Too often, though, it seems to wink at the audience, hinting at inside jokes that fly over their heads. "If you can't keep up with me," Mr. Breuer seems to be saying, "it's your own fault."
      
    Several of the performances are remarkable. Mr. Neumann somehow makes sense of (or at least gives the impression of understanding) a nearly incomprehensible role, diving into tortuous rants and tossing off vitriolic asides with confidence and a surprising emotional coherence. The extraordinary Ruth Maleczech — playing both the oldest incarnation of Rose and the voice of John, as well as Sri Moo the Guru Cow — exhibits astonishing vocal control and flexibility and parses the difficult text while projecting eroticism, sadness and a sly sense of humor. Karen Kandel (as another incarnation of Rose) nearly steals the show with a charismatic song-and-dance number and a poignant extended monologue.

    Breuer directs his text with a great deal of energy and flair. Characters dance and sing and fight and even fly. Actors film scenes as they are performed, the video images sometimes projected onto window-like screens. Elements of the set are rotated and reconfigured while actors perform atop them. The puppets, lights and music are all spectacular.

    At its best, "Ecco Porco" is an intellectual carnival, encompassing camp, philosophy, politics and spectacle, weaving them together until they are difficult to separate or distinguish from one another. One-liners leap out from the chaotic text and elicit laughter while provoking more complex reactions: "You're only as sick as your secrets," and "To reify is to deify."

    Too often, though, the play feels like a bibliography of everything Mr. Breuer has ever read. The entire show seems to wink at the audience, hinting at inside jokes that fly over their heads. "If you can't keep up with me," Mr. Breuer seems to be saying, "it's your own fault." There's also an ugly defensiveness present, as the playwright tries to anticipate his critics and deflect the possibility of the play's flaws by pointing out that they are intentional. When the mostly engaging story of Rose grows stale and overlong, a character steps forward and points it out, saying "this doesn't fly." An actor is announces as the justly vilified John Simon and proceeds to recite a review as pompous as the play itself.

    For more than thirty years, Lee Breuer and Mabou Mines have created challenging, fiercely original theatre. Along with The Wooster Group and Richard Foreman, they have repeatedly and consistently set the standard for the New York avant-garde. With "Ecco Porco", though, they also remind us that auteurs are often guilty of artistic hubris, and that everyone can benefit from a good editor from time to time.

    JANUARY 27, 2002
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK



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