Bad performance art is neither this nor that. Good performance art transforms this and that into the other.
Take Watchface, a New York company appearing this weekend at the Museum of Contemporary Art in "Sins," a piece based on the seven deadly sins. Their work is as body-centered as dance, with a strong verbal overlay from the theater. It fuses into something like Kabuki.
But that sounds exotic, and the seven members of Watchface (four women, three men) look like the people down the hall. Moreover, their moves are pure American. If fragmentation is their game, there's not a fragment that we don't recognize.
The seven deadly sins are envy, avarice, lust, sloth, anger, gluttony and pride. Each member of the group chooses one and composes a number on it, not necessarily starring herself.
Kim X. Knowlton's "Envy," for example, features Kurt Fulton and James Siena as two businessmen who link arms and grin, when it's evident that they hate each other. (Knowlton seems to be the reason.) This piece keeps threatening to become a wrestling match, but never does. The threat is why we watch.
Words aren't too important here: mere "white noise." But they're very important in Maggie Siena's "Gluttony." This begins as a monologue, with Siena as a fat woman making a cake (its main ingredient seems to be Crisco) and babbling about how mean everybody in her life is to her.
To whom is she babbling? It can't be revealed, but for a moment we are watching "Hansel and Gretel" from a new viewpoint--that of the witch. I call this original.
Iris Rose's "Sloth" has Rose as a young woman who lives by the gray-as-dishwater light of her TV set, to the eternal drone of Bob Barker and the soaps.
It sounds as bleak as Kroetz's "Request Concert," where a sensitive woman ends an evening alone with the radio by killing herself. The spectator certainly gets a sense that its heroine is in trouble.
But a visit from the woman's brother and sister-in-law (Chazz Dean and Melanie Monios) tells us that she has chosen to become a couch potato (it beats working) and that the situation won't go on forever. It's healthy to laugh at her, and we do, not without memories of certain lost weekends of our own.
"Sin" doesn't make sin look glamorous. "Anger," written by James Siena, concerns a man and wife (Siena and Knowlton) running the world's worst convenience store and saying unforgivable things to each other. The body language here is off the map: not so much Kabuki as angry T'ai Chi.
"Pride," written by Kurt Fulton, looks like a takeoff on Agnes DeMille's "Rodeo," with the men in Levi's and the women in square-dance costumes.
But instead of an image of community, the guys go around in a circle chanting "I can handle this," while the women indulge in private moments before the mirror, not all of them dainty. The nose-picking side of human nature keeps cropping up in "Sin," but there's no sloth in its presentation.
Plays at 8 p.m. tonight and at 2 p.m. Sunday. 250 S. Grand Ave. Tickets $8. (213) 626-6228.