Last November Metro announced that it was bringing in Karen Finley’s solo show A Certain Level of Denial for a two-night engagement, then canceled the gig on short notice for fear that Finley’s onstage nudity would jeopardize its liquor license. Now Finley, an Evanston Township High School alum who’s won international attention with her controversial performances, has booked herself into Steppenwolf Theatre’s studio space–for two weeks, not two nights. It’s a good match: a legit theater should attract the serious-minded audience Finley deserves, and Finley’s work will bring to Steppenwolf the kind of gutsy passion too long absent from its stage. First performed in 1992 at Lincoln Center, A Certain Level of Denial is a collection of prose and poetic monologues reflecting episodes from the artist’s life–including family eminiscences, an ugly scene with a pair of Chicago cops who offered to quash a traffic ticket in exchange for sex, and an anguished elegy for a friend with AIDS who committed suicide rather than waste away: “He couldn’t kill Helms, but he could kill himself.” With her highly charged delivery and incantatory rhythms and repetitions, Finley recalls a country-blues shouter and a beat poet, a soapbox radical and a pagan priestess; her visual imagery (including slide projections of her paintings) can be subtle and quirky, but her words are bold and blunt, an angry challenge to the equivocation and hypocrisy of what she calls the “age of reverse,” delivered with a raw intensity that marks her as one of those rare people (onstage or off) who say exactly what they mean. At Steppenwolf Theatre Company, studio theater, 1650 N. Halsted, 335-1650. Opens Wednesday, April 12, 7:30 PM. Through April 23: Wednesdays-Fridays, 7:30 PM; Saturdays, 8 PM; Sunday, April 23, 8 PM. $12-$15.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/M. Overn.