Speaking in Tongues

In her solo show, actor Eliza Jane Schneider explains that she had to leave her student life at UCLA so that she could learn something. And leave she did, on a “grant from the LAPD” (she sued for a broken wrist incurred during a student protest of the first Gulf War; Schneider evidently won a settlement). In a decommissioned ambulance, Schneider roamed the U.S.A and just plain talked to just plain folks, rich and poor, all ethnicities, in order to capture their voices — from the Bible Belt to New York’s Lower East Side. She recorded them in order to impersonate them. (Schneider has built a career as a voice-over artist.) Her show has echoes of the work of performance artist Heather Woodbury and actor Alex Lyras (whose one-man portrayal of six characters around an airport played in Hollywood earlier this year). Schneider’s aim is to summon voices, which offer aural glimpses onto the human landscape of our nation. That landscape comes with veils of humor over chasm of religiosity and despair. One young man in the Bible Belt is chastised by his date for assaulting her with a peck on the cheek after he spent $150 on her, on meals and gifts. There’s something inextricably endearing about his clutch on his own wallet, a clutch he loosens for the sake of pleasing her, and his own dignity. When she snaps at him for his presumption, that innocent peck perhaps laden with deeper desires, he bears an expression of bewilderment that says more than any of his words. That much is a testament to Schneider’s performance, her ability to conjure a character through sounds and snippets of words. By design, the piece roams as much as Schneider did on her sojourn. It’s forever on the move. Like Schneider’s intepretations, it’s more eager to move on, as though from some fear of intimacy, than to settle in. This renders the performance a facile tour de force, the celebration of an actor’s technique in a show still distilling its larger meaning. Sometimes to gain a deeper understanding of a person or a place, you need to stick around a while. Sal Romeo directs.
Saturdays, Sundays, 8 p.m. Starts: Aug. 2. Continues through Sept. 7, 2008


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