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ASK Theater Projects' 1998 Common Ground Festival

ASK Theater Projects' Common Ground Festival, an annual staging of dance and performance works-in-progress, is slated to run at UCLA's North Campus from June 23 to 28. Because of ASK's national profile, the odds are good that these pieces will re-emerge later this year or next, perhaps with a bit more spit and polish, either locally or on stages around the country. The festival also includes a Theater Fair on June 28, from 3-7 p.m. in the Freud Playhouse courtyard, in which at least 55 local troupes will flog their wares to the accompaniment of live music. The presentations are all free. Resv. required: (310) 478-9ASK. What follows is a brief guide to the main events.

The Unexpurgated Virgin (June 25, 7 p.m.; June 27, 9 p.m.) Rachel Rosenthal, the 71-year-old diva of performance art, appears with her company in a staging scored by EAR experimental musician Amy Knowles. Themes include loss and purity in an age when we are "living further and further from the land, the animals, the flesh, the touch." This dance and ritual exploration of the incessant evolution of society is rooted in the metaphor of virginity and the irreversible change it represents.

The Akhmatova Project (June 23, 7 p.m.; June 28, 6 p.m.) Russian poet Anna Akhmatova seldom committed her verses to paper. Officially silenced in Stalinist Russia, her works survived through a circle of friends who dutifully memorized each piece. Nancy Keystone's movement-based play incorporates poetry by Akhmatova and from her circle, personal correspondence and various historical documents. Says Keystone: "The most important thing I wanted to explore was how these a people survived and kept their souls intact through poetry."

Liberty (June 23, 9 p.m.; June 28, 4 p.m.) Can a raucous drag show include incisive political commentary? Just the question performer Chris Wells addresses in his one-man show about the search for an American identity, in which the Statue of Liberty flees her harbor pedestal and goes into the country searching for freedom. "Ultimately, it is a play about the loss of ideals," Wells explains.

Fingered (June 24, 7 p.m.; June 26, 9 p.m.) Originally from San Diego, Smart Mouth Theater is now based in San Fran-cisco, and here presents a deconstruction of Lillian Hellman's 1936 play,The Children's Hour - combining the streamlined script with excerpts from other plays, prose writings and poetry. Inherently comedic while illuminating paranoia and hypocrisy through its juxtapositions, Fingered focuses on headmistress Martha and her eventual lesbian confession in the face of ignorance and persecution. Creator Steven Cosson calls it "exploded naturalism."

Atlas of the Universe (June 24, 9 p.m.; June 27, 7 p.m.) "It's about making work that hits your head, your heart and your gut as if you were on a roller coaster," says Darla Johnson, co-artistic director of Austin's Johnson/Long Dance Company. Four performers with suitcases, staged before a film loop of a deep-blue sky, assault the audience with images and movement as they attempt to comprehend and explain the vastness of the cosmos and the smallness of the individual.

Helen & Frida (June 25, 9 p.m.; June 26, 7 p.m.) Based on a short story by Ann Finger, Naomi Goldberg's play - developed in the Mark Taper Forum's Other Voices program - depicts a fictional love affair between Helen Keller and Frida Kahlo. Tackling the subject of disability and sexuality, the play features a wheelchair dance designed in the spirit of Kahlo's art and the way it reflected her disabilities.

Mariachi Quixote: La Sanchi Learns To Play the Guitarron (June 26, 8 p.m.; June 27, 8 p.m.; June 28, 7 p.m.) Inspired by the mariachi mecca at the corner of First Street and Boyle Avenue, Jose Cruz Gonzalez transplants Cervantes' Don Quixote to L.A.'s mariachi culture. Mariachi veteran Don Quezada and his companion, La Sanchi (a young girl eager to learn), journey through local streets searching for the mythical Mariachi Square.

Dirt (June 28, 9 p.m.) Whether it's pay dirt, dirt cheap or tabloid dirt, John Fleck is fascinated with the public's preoccupation with dirt on one hand and its puritanical loathing of it on the other. "Everyone wants his pile of dirt, but the piles are getting fewer and bigger," Fleck says, noting the irony of society sanitizing everything from doorknobs to heritage. It could very well drive a person mad. Fleck sees his solo piece as a showdown between the sterile government and the dirty performance artist . . . and who would know better than he?


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