Sanctifying Silliness 

Bloodhut's 'Charmed And Dangerous' Cast Gets Away With Mayhem.

THE MOST PRECARIOUS avenue for live performance is improvisational comedy, a risk followed closely by the autobiographical sketch. If you take drama as the main theatrical thoroughfare, personal revelation is often a detour where the road is still under construction. And improv -- that's a dark alley you don't want to walk down alone.

Bloodhut's first performance this year charts just such a precarious (and by extension, courageous) path, weaving a script from sketch comedy, improv and straight-faced stories from its cast of seven women. I hate to use the phrase "mixed bag" to describe these ladies, but with their outrageous sense of humor and wordplay, it probably won't raise any eyebrows.

Wanted: Charmed and Dangerous is a tapestry of life in two acts. Staged in the informal Black Box Theater at the PCC West campus, its only props are a projection screen cycling through circled want-ads torn from a very familiar-looking paper; a red-vinyl, heart-shaped box; and a toilet-paper roll next to a tin pail with a sign that says, "Dump your crimes here."

Audience participation is solicited right up front, with slips of paper asking for a hobby, physical characteristic, and the worst crime (lawless or personal) you've ever committed. We deposit these in the appropriate box on stage, and wait. The soundtrack to the Broadway musical A Chorus Line plays softly in the background.

Charmed opens with a parody of the audition scene from that famous production, with some off-beat choreography and unaccompanied song that had the audience squealing from the get-go. The Bloodhut women waste no time in mocking every cliché and imagined fear of feminist theatre, from bad poetry and maxi-pad hand puppets to Joan Crawford worship, accordion-playing lesbians, and a climactic (literally) ensemble piece which, were it to give rise to further discussion, would fall under the subversive category "anatomically incorrect."

A silly but auspicious beginning, to be sure.

The disarming charm continues with Marge Hilts' "Ad Nauseam" monologue, a short and poetic prose piece on the etymology of personal ads. "I would be classified as a DWF," she says. "Sounds like a misdemeanor, doesn't it?" Married for 43 years and divorced for 10, we learn, she goes on to invent far more interesting adjectives for herselfäand to deconstruct some of those petitions for the perfect companion. It's wonderful to see her up there, looking the part of archetypal grandmother, and embracing a philosophy of change, desire and personal freedom.

The whole program, serious and comedic alike, is something of an homage to change. "Bring it on," the performers say. They're all about shedding old ideas and testing out new ones, equally in dramatic narratives about the loss of a husband, a religion, of security and expectation, or in eliciting random words and objects from the audience to test their improv skills (à la the Drew Cary show What's My Line?). They play themselves, and call each other by name. They have nowhere on that bare stage to hide, and they make no attempt to obfuscate. Their art is that they're exposed, imperfect, funny, fumbling and unafraid.

A performance based in real life, naturally, has its ups and downs. The improv is hit and miss, and not all of these revelations are revelatory. But there are some perfect moments, such as Eva Tessler's "Rap Unwrap," a movement piece set to a spoken-word soundtrack of commercial slogans and want-ads. As we listen to this poetic litany of consumer-cultural identity, the pile of crumpled newspaper center stage begins to stir. In slow, fragile motions, hands sprout tendril-like from the pile, feeling for air and light. It's an incredibly expressive, liberating exercise, as Tessler's unhurried movements balance and break free from the unrelenting, voice-modulated refrains.

"Match Made in Heaven" reaches into that heart-shaped box to see what we, the audience, have unwittingly provided as grist for some vivid blind dates; and guessing the real from the surreal personal ads in the two-part "www.lovewanted.com" is a gas.

Charmed and Dangerous is a warm, witty evening, tinged with sorrow but overwhelmingly hopeful and joyous. As a celebration of women from the thick of our community -- writers, mothers, musicians, budding actresses and day-job workers -- it's a laudable display of creative energy.

With 23 sketches in all, seven of them short monologues, it asks a lot of its creators. More like stand-up than theatre, its greatest success will come with a participatory audience. But this is one act of faith you don't have to believe to see: as folk-musician-turned-actress Martie van der Voort says of the search for enlightenment, "My faith is a work in progress."

Wanted: Charmed and Dangerous, a Bloodhut production, continues through May 7 at the PCC Black Box Theater, 2202 W. Anklam Road. Show time is 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $12, $10 for students and seniors, available at Antigone Books, Fit to Be Tried, and at the PCC box office. Call 206-6988 for reservations and information.

Bloodhut Productions will hold a five-month creative performance workshop in August, entitled The Creative Woman. Workshop is limited to 25 women. For information, call 750-0594.

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