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Finding Gems In 'Theater Of Trash'

September 27, 1986|DAN SULLIVAN | Times Theater Critic

Paul Zaloom (at the LACE Gallery, tonight only) is something new. Think of a Japanese bunraku master looming over his exquisite ivory puppets. Now picture the bunraku master dressed as a 1940s soda jerk. Now picture the puppets as stuff from the junk heap--detergent bottles, rubber bands, old baby shoes.

This is Zaloom's "Theater of Trash." He stands behind a bridge table and manipulates his "puppets" through little vignettes, with voices and sound effects by Zaloom. Here comes Farmer Brown (a miniature rake). Hi, Farmer Brown, how are your crops today?

It sounds like nursery school. Zaloom does, in fact, get a kick out of playing with his junk. The child in him survives. But he's not kidding. His stories have titles like "Agriculture in America," "Education in America" and even "Prison in America." He's a social critic, masquerading as a goof.

The first interest in his work is its "pretend" side. An empty detergent bottle does look something like a plump female teacher: see the shoulders? A cheap wig does have something in common with tumbleweed. A bird cage has a lot in common with a cellblock. A small red umbrella, opened and closed very fast, does suggest a cholesterol-clogged heart having a heart attack.

At the same time we never forget that most of Zaloom's are out of the wastebasket--where, it's implied, America is discarding its farmers, schoolchildren and teachers. What better icon of the shoddiness of American life could there be than a plastic champagne glass?

Part one of Zaloom's show has him delivering a solemn slide lecture on the Defense Department, with examples of its permitted and forbidden nomenclature. ("Local war," no. "Limited war," yes.) Next comes an updated Punch and Judy show, set atop a Greenwich Village building that's about to go condo. This is the evening's best example of Zaloom's traditional puppet skills.

But the gems are in the trash. Tonight's show starts at 8. LACE is at 1804 Industrial St. (between 6th and 7th Sts., one long block east of Alameda). (213) 624-5650.

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