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Performance Art Review : Wong's Tnr Company At Japan America Theatre

May 09, 1987|CHRIS PASLES | Times Staff Writer

Two women gradually shuck the gauze cocoons they have wrapped themselves up in, step forward boldly and begin sowing imaginary seed, as if enacting American Indian rituals.

So ends performance artist Yen Lu Wong's two-act work "Shi-Me," which was given its premiere by Wong's company, TNR, Thursday at the Japan America Theatre.

It was one of the few memorable images in a diffuse, tedious and academic work, loaded with pretensions, from the incorporation of chic masks by Francoise Gilot to program notes announcing that what was taking place was no less than two "ceremonies."

Ostensibly celebrated were events of autobiography and, to quote the notes, "metabiography."

In Part 1, "Cicada Images, Moulting," meandering theatrical episodes were hung together on the slender narrative thread of a Chinese girl emerging from self-hatred generated by encounters with Western education and religion.

Often made up of long solos for Wong, the act began with a moth-like creature struggling to emerge from a stylized bamboo cage, traced images of school days/adolescence and ended with her ceremony of self-baptism after transcending a hated-loved Nun figure.

As a performer, Wong could make expressive use of face and voice. But only her upper torso, shoulders and arms conveyed any kinetic urgency, so she scarcely commanded the stage or proved interesting to watch for long.

Part 2, "Beginnings Are Born in Memory," was more movement-oriented, with company members Carrie Chan, Gail Gustafson, Donna Sternberg, Adelaide Tolleson and Wong gracelessly depicting universal states of paralysis, struggle and rebirth. It began with the women wrenched backward in fighting unseen forces; passed into a darkened stage interlude, with phosphorescent effects, and ended with the seed-sowing ritual that alone stuck in the mind.

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