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DANCE REVIEW : Goode's 'Convenience Boy' Unflinching, Compassionate


Madness and household appliances defined contemporary reality in "Convenience Boy," an alternately brooding and puckish social satire introduced to West Coast audiences by the Joe Goode Performance Group on Friday at the Wadsworth Theater in Westwood.

Rough and anarchic like the lives it portrays, this 75-minute look at young hustlers and drug addicts in the Bay Area juxtaposes documentary photographs and sound bites with Expressionist monologues and dances created by Goode and his four-member company.

As testimony about "being hooked on heroin and selling my body" alternated with sweet-and-sour theater-parables about disposable lives, household appliances became the symbol of a materialistic culture--and madness the condition of people who exist to be used. Indeed, counterpoint emerged as the event's key structural premise: dances on the stage sharing attention with speeches set on tiny platforms installed in the first rows of seats.

In subject and approach, the piece parallels the 1991 film "My Own Private Idaho," with Goode's formal group choreography serving much the same function here as Shakespearean paraphrases do onscreen. Seeing these young outcasts in terms of their own values isn't enough in each case: We need to take a longer view, through a cultural prism, and Goode makes dancing the expression of that perspective.

For maximum irony, he avoided music that his young subjects might choose to hear and, instead, picked artifacts of an earlier, rosier pop culture: Rodgers and Hammerstein, the Carpenters, Peggy Lee. One sequence begins with Wayne Hazzard staring out a window-frame while Suellen Einarsen crouches disconsolately upstage. "I think you're overreacting," he screams at her periodically, as they become swept up in a formula jazz duet to Otis Redding's pledge-of-love ballad "These Arms of Mine."

Eventually, the murderous fantasies shared by such characters as an adolescent convenience-store clerk and a self-styled sexual Wonder Woman fuse with the mock-sentimental dance-rituals parodying media lies--and suddenly "Convenience Boy" abandons its relentlessly grungy look for bitter delusional spectacle.

After seductive, lyrical speeches expressing the longing for a sense of place in modern life, designers Alexander V. Nichols (scenery) and Jack Carpenter (lighting) bathe the stage in soft light, billowing fog, falling leaves and Vivaldi at his most serene.

Unfortunately, this sense of place belongs only to an old codger wielding a portable leaf-blower. For the young people met and depicted here--rootless if not homeless street trade "who lived by the body, for the body"--a metal table in a morgue is the resting place Goode envisions.

Last words? "I have a body. I am a body. I am embodied." The perfect mantra of self-worth, '90s style, and the ultimate epitaph as well.

Complex, uneven, often brilliant in its gallows humor, "Convenience Boy" also serves to showcase Goode's 7-year-old San Francisco ensemble, including (besides the members previously mentioned) the quick, pliant Marit Brook-Kothlow and the gutsy Elizabeth Burrit. The company's final Southern California performance this season takes place May 7 at the Irvine Barclay Theatre.

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