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    2008-2009 reviews:
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    Painted Snake in a Painted Chair

    The clique and the dead

    "Painted Snake in a Painted Chair" is a warmly funny and fragmentary ensemble piece about a group of friends, long-buried mysteries, and the minor oddities that happen to them on a given day.


    One of the things you lose as an adult is the group of friends you hang out with every day — whose history you know by heart, whose mannerisms you know intimately, whose company you rely on on a daily basis. High schoolers have that, sometimes college students have it, but eventually people drift off, marry, have kids, and start to live two by two instead of half a dozen at a time. You may do lunch but you no longer do life together.

    Company: The Talking Band.
    Written by: Ellen Maddow.
    Directed by: Paul Zimet.
    Cast: Diane Beckett, Gary Brownlee, Randolph Curtis Rand, Steven Rattazzi, Tina Shepard, Louis Smith.
    Choreography by: Karinne Keithley.
    Music by: Ellen Maddow.
    Keyboards and sound design by "Blue" Gene Tyranny.
    Set design by Nic Ularu.
    Costume design by Kiki Smith.
    Lighting design by Carol Mullins

    Related links: Official site
    La Mama Experimental Theater
    74A East 4th St.
    Jan. 18 - Feb. 2, 2003

    Except for the fivesome in "Painted Snake in a Painted Chair," a not entirely straightforward comedy-drama at LaMama. It's an ensemble performance full of fragmentary dialogue, funny twists on reality, odd music, rhythm and movement, and references to events in these people's shared past that are not immediately explained. How did these five come together and what is it supposed to tell us?

    I'm not sure the play is telling us anything clear and succinct enough to be summed up in a sentence, but there are many evocative moments of a sort that, if they happened to you, you would think back on years later and say, "Remember that time when..." and "Remember the last time we saw so-and-so..." The characters tie the past into the present with reminiscences like that, and at the end we hear the house matriarch, Nikki (Diane Beckett), bittersweetly recall her old friends years hence, when they may have drifted off again.

    On the particular day when we spy into the "Painted Snake" house, a mysterious suitcase is opened, a former friend shows up with unexpected news, an eerie secret is found behind the dowdy living-room wallpaper and another under the floorboards, the spirit of a lost companion seems present, and bees are evicted from their hive in the attic. If we'd been watching another day, undoubtedly, a whole other bunch of off-kilter events and miniature miracles would have taken place.

    Two things make "Painted Snake," in all its strange disconnectedness, work nicely. One is just the mixed feeling of warmth and melancholy that it evokes around the subject of old friends. And another is the performance of Steven Rattazzi, an understated comic genius (judging from his work here and in last year's "Jimmy Carter Was a Democrat") who seems to drive the whole ensemble. Think of early Robin Williams with his foot off the accelerator for a change — Rattazzi is full of strange voices and noises, outbursts and infectious enthusiasm, but always believably within his character. He makes everything around him funnier.

    JANUARY 31, 2003

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