Bailiwick Repertory

at the Theatre Building

October 9, 16, and 23

There’s always a certain atmosphere about the really good late shows, especially performance-art ones. They feel clandestine, like you’re going to a blind pig. Only the people in the know go. And those who don’t–well, tough for them.

11 Minutes Max!, showing at 11 Friday nights through October 23, is a hip show. It’s laid-back. It’s fun. And it doesn’t even try to be art (you gotta love that). Producers Iris Moore and Cecilie Keenan were inspired to do this show by an American Theater article about the vitality of vaudeville, which also never tried too hard to be art. Vaudeville had its artistic highs, but mostly it was just entertainment. And that’s what 11 Minutes Max! mostly is: good, intelligent entertainment.

Moore and Keenan’s only requirement was that no act be longer than 11 minutes. (That’s half the length of a TV sitcom–no time to get bored.) Beyond that I assume it had to be good. Beyond that . . .

Well, for example, my favorite was an untitled piece by Matthew Owens. He walks onstage in total darkness, plugs something in, and flicks a switch. Suddenly he’s illuminated by a strip of those white fairy lights that blink inside a plastic tube. The tube is wrapped around his head, and the only visible part of his face is one unblinking blue eye. “Daley Plaza is about . . . 14,000 lumens,” he says with the deadpan monotony of a dull professor. “Wrigley Field is about . . . 22,000 lumens.” He continues reciting the lumens of various places–the Taj Mahal, Saint Paul’s Cathedral. He knows them all, he says: the White House, his own apartment, in fact any place an audience member can shout out. That’s basically the whole performance. In a calm, absurd way, it’s almost sublime.

Many of the pieces are sugarcoated with sardonic wit and cut right to the heart of current political debates. Scott Sandoe’s short play, “Lifer’s Picnic,” is a brilliantly performed parody of family values a la Married With Children but even more acerbic. Gurlene Hussey–half of the drag duo darlings of the performance underground–chats a bit about how tough it is to be a 30-year-old unmarried female in her small town, where most of her friends are already grandmothers. She remains delightfully sweet even while singing about cutting her man into pieces and dumping him in the river.

The most thought-provoking event is Suzie Silver’s video “A Spy: Hester Reeves Does the Doors.” This is the kind of art that enrages Jesse Helms. A crucified Christ with buxom breasts with faces painted on them lip-synchs Jim Morrison: “I’m a spy in the house of love. I know your deepest secret fears.” Clips of nude women dancing and making love flash in the background. There’s bound to be at least one sexually explicit image here to get under everyone’s skin. This becomes even more disturbing when Silver’s Christ figure says he knows all about our thoughts.

Jon Mozes’s monologue “Working Dreams . . . From Behind the Iron Curtain” conjures up a truly dreamlike state, with fascinating images such as speeding in a car over a maze of highway exit and entrance ramps above a sea of deep green water. It’s an interesting work but doesn’t have much of a point beyond its own surrealism. Robin Stanton’s “Electragic,” about television, control, and the LA riots, is skillfully performed and presents some interesting concepts but lacks the wit that makes social commentaries bearable.

The biggest crowd-pleaser the night I went was probably Jill Wachholz’s lightly sarcastic story “The Great Human Race.” She beats out a rhythm with two sticks and in a peppy, overly optimistic voice tells about joining the great human race, running here, running there–“Not a minute to myself, therefore I am!”

The show is hosted by actress Paula Killen, who can be credited with creating a lot of the hip, laid-back atmosphere. Between acts she meanders onstage in a tight black Naugahyde zip-up bell-bottom body suit, carrying a six-pack of Lite. She chats with the audience, reads off a little card, jokes with the actors offstage. But the best part about her introductions is that, if you’re really in the know about performance, you can win one of those Lite beers. She introduces each act with a performance trivia question.

Maybe you don’t know enough performance trivia to win a beer. Like a lot of people, maybe you don’t know anything at all about performance. 11 Minutes Max! is a good introduction. It’s funny, thought-provoking, and sometimes–without even trying to be–it’s genuine art.