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KID BEAT

'Fur Seal' Overcomes Its Flaws

February 18, 1986|LYNNE HEFFLEY

Performance artist Liebe Gray is on a teaching mission at the Los Angeles Childrens' Museum. Her tools are puppets, wooden cutouts, a tuba, a wading pool, slides and tapes. The surprise is that Gray's educational format--undynamic, technically haphazard--works as well as it does.

The preservation of life is her singularly understated message in "Kotick, the Fur Seal," a loose adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's "The White Seal."

Gray, as Kotick, crawls about the cold floor of the Museum's Louis B. Mayer Performance Space, clad in a white sweat suit, looking for an island safe from predatory men who hunt seals for their fur.

Seeking aid, she goes to Walrus, an odd wooden contraption with blue bulb eyes and then to Stella the Sea Cow. Stella, a huge, bizarre puppet, towers close to the ceiling, sways silently for a few moments and is then dropped in a heap on the floor, where her green eyes continue to glow disconcertingly through the performance.

Throughout, Gray has plenty of factual information to offer on the lives of seals, walruses and sea cows. Slides of painted underwater scenes by Linda Lewis and of illustrations by naturalist Henry Elliot showing seals being led to slaughter are flashed on a screen. (No actual killing is shown.) There's a strong feeling that one is attending an eccentric academic lecture.

Gray's only help on stage is Joan Harrison who manipulates a wooden cutout of a seal and dangles Limmerschin the Arctic Tern at the end of a pole. Slight misadventures do occur. Limmerschin loses her tail with a clatter, and then is left unceremoniously hanging head down. A couple of seals fall over and Gray doesn't always wait for her taped cues, stepping on her own lines. The tapes themselves have a homemade feel--sounds of sea, seals and sea birds overwhelm Gray's quiet narration.

Still, Gray's sincerity keeps an incipient silliness at bay and her low-key conversational style avoids any hint of emotionalism. She does make her point.

Gray remembers how, as a little girl, she used to love to stroke a seal skin coat her mother had.

"I didn't realize a seal had to die for it," she tells the audience simply.

Performances continue at 310 N. Main St. through the weekend at noon and 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday (213)-687-8800).

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