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Performance Artists Attentively Watch the World Around Them

April 18, 1993|ROBERT KOEHLER | Robert Koehler is a frequent contributor to Calendar.

If there is any guideline behind "Feminine Rule," the upcoming two-weekend series of solo performance works by a quartet of women at Beyond Baroque, it is a simple, yet demanding one: Too much navel-gazing can be unhealthy for solo performance artists and other living things.

Noreen Hennesy and Ivette Soler (who perform Friday and Saturday), and Monica Palacios and Joyce Guy (who appear April 30 and May 1) are acutely aware of the risks of the solo artist's falling into the trap of solipsism, and have summoned up various means to combat it. For all four, being in a city such as Los Angeles, surging right now with collective fears, paranoias and aspirations, forces them to observe the outer world while keeping an eye on their very different inner selves.

Indeed, the differences in each work confirm what audiences at performance venues such as Beyond Baroque, Highways or Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE) have long known: The eclectic individuality of L. A. female performers is as great--if not greater--than that of men.

Though Hennesy and Soler studied in the same Beyond Baroque workshop under Benjamin Weissman, their current works are studies in contrast. Soler's "Bertha Big Butt" focuses on her experience coming to terms with her weight--and by extension, American women's obsession with weight and food--while Hennesy's untitled piece explores the semi-autobiographical memories of a girl in Upstate New York. Palacios' "Words and Wisecracks" looks frankly at lesbian sex, while Guy's "Before/After" chronicles her evolving feelings in the wake of the Los Angeles unrest.

"It's an embarrassing thing for a woman to admit that she's fat," says Soler, 28. "You're made to feel awful. But to cop to their feelings about it isn't something that women will do unless someone allows them to voice it. I think by performing this, I'm giving that allowance to other larger women, since they've come up to me after performances and said that I was speaking for them."

Although the San Antonio-born Soler came to L. A. with an alternative arts scene in mind, she has run up against the harsh realities of Hollywood and the ethic of the perfect, aerobicized body.

"One pound overweight is considered a crime in Hollywood," she says. "I'm mad at Roseanne for losing weight, because she's been a flagship for larger women. Her body should be large." Soler realized this about herself, and the years of yo-yo dieting that she imposed on her body. It's that painful adventure that she relates in "Bertha Big Butt."

But with the pain comes some humor. "I always wonder if people get tired of hearing just my voice," so she injects some novel audience participation--such as passing out diet foods to the crowd.

Unlike Hennesy's previous performance works such as "Bad Posture," which she derived from a diary she kept for 10 years, her new work, directed by Ellen Krout-Hasegawa, is very much created from the ground up.

The diary approach is "gone now, and instead, I'm concentrating on creating a world, something that people can enter into and maybe find something of themselves. My character is this little girl in New York, in the places I grew up, but as the writing has progressed, she's not exactly me anymore."

Hennesy's career defies charting--first, as an actor in regional theater, then acting in original plays by such writers as John Steppling and Robert Hummer, and on to joining the singing ensemble of "The Joni Mitchell Project" at Los Angeles Theatre Center, and music collaborations with writer-performer Philip Littell. Her solo work, "Girl Scout Diaries," is among spoken word performances available in stores.

"More than anything else," she says, "I think of this as storytelling. I'm of the school that believes that the most personal is the most political."

Palacios seems to subscribe to this notion as well. It's this belief--plus her upfront stance as a lesbian--that has moved Palacios from the stand-up comedy scene she worked in the Bay Area to the performance scene in L. A. Though she's best-known for her ongoing act, "Latin Lezbo Comic," the new piece for "Feminine Rule" takes her in a slightly different direction.

"This began as a short story about lesbian sex, and sort of grew from there," Palacios says, adding that "Words and Wisecracks" also stems from her bemusement at how "guys who find out that I'm a lesbian ask me how we do it. One guy thought that we giggle ourselves to orgasm."

The tale, Palacios explains, begins in the present--in bed--and then flashes back to when the two women met. "It's always the Chase, the Pursuer and the Pursued. It's funnier for the Pursuer, because she's trying to be so cool. . . .

"I don't want to alienate people, because I work in a lot of contexts--Latina, woman, lesbian--and I try to make the stories universal. It feels good knowing that a crowd isn't intimidated hearing a Chicana lesbian talking about anything she wants to."

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