'Cheerful Insanity,' Here Arts Center - Review
Published: October 10, 2011
Romantic and sexual trauma pervade "Cheerful Insanity: Chao and Katzberg in Repertory," two plays of contrasting sensibilities at the Here Arts Center. Each barely an hour and running on different dates, they are both confessional in nature and intriguing.
The more linear is Tom X. Chao's droll, ruminative and sometimes arch "Callous Cad." Mr. Chao, playing himself, is agonizing over an affair. His friends on a video screen (a married seducer, a randy couple trumpeting their relationship) are not helping. Offering enlightenment is a Magical Being (the delightful Charlotte Pines of "Play Dead" as the spirit of love) and her Magical Assistant (Amy Virginia Buchanan). Ms. Pines's irrepressible sprite is an enchanting foil to Mr. Chao's petulant and tearful neurotic.
Kim Katzberg's one-woman "Penetrating the Space" is a fractured gallery of personalities coming at you with such velocity that their words demand close attention. Her principal character is Jinny Jikkyl, a wide-eyed, high-strung actress wrestling with insecurity, lack of an agent and an incestuous past. Her support network, if you can call it that, includes a butch lighting designer who worships her and a dissipated former stripper giving glib advice at a suicide prevention hot line (Ms. Katzberg in drag queen mode).
At one point Jinny alludes to her father's sexual assault; at another she dons a teeth-baring wolf mask; at yet another she lasciviously mounts a stuffed purple horse. Animated segments by Maia Cruz Palileo underscore Jinny's dissociation. But for all its aggression and jagged textures, "Penetrating the Space" has a glowing, vulnerable, haunting center.
John Harlacher, who directed both shows, and Josh Iacovelli, on lights, display range and invention with minimal means.