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Josephine the Mouse Singer 

Last Planet Theatre production

Wednesday, Feb 7 2001
"Josephine the Singer, or, the Mouse Folk" is one of Franz Kafka's concept-fables, a vision of a cartoon world where animals do funny things that throw light on human behavior. A community of mice, in this case, worships a squeaky diva named Josephine. ("Is it singing at all?" wonders the narrator. "Is it not perhaps just a piping?") Michael McClure adapted the story for the stage more than 20 years ago, and Last Planet Theatre has mounted a splashy revival at SomArts, complete with mouse ears by students at the California College of Arts and Crafts and new music by Terry Riley. McClure and Riley are both legends: Riley is the ur-minimalist who influenced both Philip Glass and the Who; McClure, one of the last living beats.

He treats Kafka's parable with bloodless philosophy and marinates some very silly set pieces in pretentious language about sex and beauty and soul. Tori Hinkle plays an aloof and glamorous Josephine with cropped mouse-colored hair and fiercely glaring eyes, but her lines are too self-conscious to bring the prima donna fully to life. ("You cannot have the heights of my potentialities!" she tells a fawning fan. "You cannot have the whole spirit!") We're not allowed to forget that these are mouse folk, small-minded and petty. The show does have charming surprises -- like a giant yellow cake dismantled by the mice, or a Narrator with an eye patch and a missing foreleg (mangled by The Cat), or a well-choreographed bit with mouse-ghosts -- but it lacks any real urgency. The one question a play can answer that the story can't is, "How does Josephine sound?" and the answer here is predictable. For all his silliness, McClure turns out to be one of those people who take Kafka too seriously.


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