Last night’s LAB show had a great turnout–from what I could gather, they took in sufficient funds to go some way toward thievery-proofing the building, which was the main purpose of the benefit.
The evening began with Brent Cunningham reading a poem called “Letter to an Ingenue.” I wasn’t quite able to get a fix on it, as it went by pretty quickly, but it had something to do with identity, the theater, and being “infected” by Shakespearean language, as Brent put it. He finished reading the poem, made like he was about to leave, then did something that wasn’t on the program sheet: he transformed himself into the Cowardly Lion by drawing whiskers and a black nose on his face and donning “paws” made out of socks, and delivered an over-the-top rendition of “Courage.” There was lots of theatrical face-twisting warm-up stuff, growling, and general mugging, and by the time it was over, the whole audience was beside itself.
Taylor Brady followed with a reading of his longish piece “Counting,” which made me regret having missed his Geary Street reading the night before even more than I already did. He had to follow a rollicking burlesque performance with a dense, tautly verbal and cerebral work, and he pulled it off beautifully.
Then Carla Harryman and Ken Berry read/performed an excerpt from Gertrude Stein’s play Listen to Me (“The earth is covered with people. Suddenly there is a war”). Again, beautifully executed. Harryman and Berry were very attentive to each other’s inflections, and kept the emotional realism of the play constantly in the forefront.
Camille Roy finished the first half of the program with some short poems from a series titled “Grenades” that she said was going to be a web project soon. These were angry, sassy, passionate little political addresses, which she delivered in her trademark making-love-to-the-mike fashion to great effect (sometimes she got a little too close to the mike, but she mostly adjusted this problem after the first half-minute or so).
After intermission, Alan Bernheimer gave my favorite performance in a night of excellent performances: he wore all three hats (literally) in a scene from his play Particle Arms, originally produced in the early 80s, I think he said. Shuttling rapidly between three noirish characters spitting wise-guy dialogue at each other, he kept a fedora, a golf cap, and some kind of baggy knit thing rotating places on his head. The wordplay was similar in some ways to what Clark Coolidge has been doing in his On the Nameways poems, incorporating snatches of hard-boiled talk, sometimes modified or distorted, from old movies. Lines like “You’re talking with your mouth open.” Some of it had a kind of modern-translation-of-Greek-tragedy feel to it (I can’t reproduce any of those lines, sorry). One line had me going crazy all night afterward until I got home and was able to look it up to find out where I’d heard it before: “I had to use a muscleman to pick me off the floor.”
Dodie Bellamy followed this with three sections from Cunt-Ups. Dodie is a master of the straight face, which perfectly accentuates the way the book’s fractured pornologues are simultaneously absurdly funny and charged with a real sense of risk.
Finally, a preview scene from Kevin Killian and Craig Goodman’s play The Smith Family, starring (reading straight from the program here) “Jocelyn Saidenberg as Jaclyn Smith, Margaret Crane as Liz Smith, Karla Milosevich as Patti Smith, Wayne Smith as himself, Tanya Hollis as Susan Smith (the woman who drove the kids into the lake), Rex Ray as Jack Smith, and Kota Ezawa as Morrissey (from the Smiths).”