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Wednesday, May 13 1998
Making the Scene
Nesting Dolls. Choreography by Cid Pearlman. Original music by Jonathan Segel and Erling Wold. At ODC Theater, 3153 17th St. (at South Van Ness), May 1-9. Call 863-9834.

On any night in any club, people dance grandiose visions of themselves, devoting hands and faces to elaborate intrigues. Adventures of BeBe Underground, Cid Pearlman's newest dance for her company Nesting Dolls, celebrates this scene as it was in the punk '80s. Billows of smoke encase BeBe Underground's clubbers, who glow in lime-green minis, plum-and-pink tutus, and shiny black plastic halters, with garish '80s colors streaking eyes and hair. An accompanying four-piece rock band plays quasi-punk fare that occasionally catches the swoopy-slide sound of the Replacements.

BeBe Underground has all the foliage of a clubber's paradise without producing its fruit. The band's principals, including Alison Faith Levy (from the Loud Family) and Jonathan Segel (formerly of Camper Van Beethoven), hold back, playing a string of tunes at a predictable pace so the dancers can do their numbers. Whatever the choreography may require of the musicians, we need them to rip away if we're going to give ourselves up to the show. The musicians are a backdrop to the dancers not only musically but physically -- they're hidden in a darkened upstage corner. Without a band at the center, these clubbers have no target for their energies -- nothing tangible to hurtle toward or escape from, and no excuse for slamming.

The dancers tussle, nevertheless. They toss back invisible drink after invisible drink, move together in large, sloshy sequences, throw and catch bodies in the air, splinter off into solos and friendly, aggressive duets, and pass around a blond wig -- the sign of BeBe the Ballet Biker. But they haven't really made a scene. Rarely motivated by character or occasion -- by anything but a too evident duty to the dance -- their actions carry little drama or intrigue.

By contrast, Shiny Gun descends into a thick mood. Jennifer Kesler, Michelle Stortz, Megan Willdorf, and choreographer Pearlman dance with precise, intriguing flatness to a sound score that alternates between the riot grrrl growl of Fluffy and poems by Dorothy Parker that fliply extol suicidal tendencies. Seated back to back, the dancers knot limbs. When one opens her lap to an insinuated body, her embrace is impassive, as if she were still alone. Pearlman had difficulty in BeBe Underground conveying punk's fun abandon, but in Shiny Gun she's a master at revealing its darker, conflicting impulses: annihilating fury, aggrandizing postures, and deflating ennui all mashed together. At one point, the dancers cock two fingers overhead, arms waving seductively. It looks like a sexual invitation. Then you realize it's a gun; they're ready to blow their brains out.

-- Apollinaire Scherr

The Boys in the Band
My Night With Reg. By Kevin Elyot. Directed by Ed Decker. Starring Aaron Brace, Andrew Horwitz, Dennis Lickteig, Miles Norton, Dennis Parks, and Brian Turner. At the New Conservatory Theater, 25 Van Ness (at Market), through May 16. Call 861-8972.

My Night With Reg was a hit in England, which is baffling. In San Francisco it's the gay production of the hour; and the hype -- including some of the reviews -- may lead you to believe it's something stronger than your average romantic melodrama with an all-male cast. The characters are colorful, sure; but the script and most of the acting feel feckless and hollow, as if someone decided early on that running through soap-opera conventions would be enough to distinguish the play. The story of six gay friends in London is told in three scenes at Guy's flat, each separated by several years; "Reg" is an unseen mutual friend who dies by Scene 2. At his wake it comes out that almost everyone has spent a night with him, which is awkward because Reg's lover, Daniel, is the group's center of gravity. Miles Norton plays him vividly as a flaming, irrepressible party boy -- greenish jacket, tortoise-shell glasses -- who suspects betrayal but isn't sure. One of the friends, John, has had a long affair with Reg, and his problem of whether to confess moves the story forward.

The reason this play has been a hit is most likely its cast. It could be pitched with poster-size photos of each character with his name underneath: "Hey everyone, meet ... Daniel! Guy! Bernie-and-Benny!" They might be people you know. Bernie's a dreadful bore and Benny is a delightful sleazebag. (Dennis Parks plays him well.) Eric's a young house painter who perks up the older men and even takes off his clothes. It would all be hard to argue with if it weren't so rote, or if there were more energy among the actors. As it is, though, most of their deep emotions seem forced. When the play opens, John and Guy meet again for the first time in years, and the staccato dialogue doesn't evoke awkwardness so much as suggest a page of a script with awkward dialogue on it. And the playwright's tricks for getting characters on and off the stage -- like Eric asking John if he wants to listen to his Walkman, to let Daniel and Guy discuss John privately -- amount to a tangle of what Shaw called "copper wire," rather than luminescence.

Still, I don't mean to ruin anyone's fun. The play has a devoted audience. The ovation was honest last week and a few people actually cried.

-- Michael Scott Moore


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