Lauri Macklin

at Randolph Street Gallery

March 13 and 14

Nicole Hollander’s comic strip Sylvia has a character called the Woman Who Worries Too Much. Her worries are wildly creative–things like whether the breakdown of the ozone layer will affect the radicchio crop so that she won’t have a good source for vitamins. But in her chic dress and haircut she’s laughably distant from any real problems.

Lauri Macklin worries a lot too, but she focuses on the big problems. In her autobiographical dance When She Was Little, She Used to Dance in the Living Room. Macklin represented her adolescence as a single, repeated motion of striking something–as if she were chained to Vulcan’s forge. Labyrinth, another solo, features an intricate costume from which Macklin unsuccessfully tries to extricate herself. Her recent larger-scale performance pieces have been less introspective, though they’re still dark hued: the subject of The Mountain is the dehumanization of the corporate world, and the title of Trouble Sleeping speaks for itself.

After MoMing Dance & Arts Center closed in 1990, Macklin seemed to stop working. Now she’s reemerged with a small-scale performance piece, The Woman Who Kept Getting Stuck –which gently parodies her own tendency to worry. Macklin creates a prosaic character, a housewife and mother, with familiar concerns. As the woman vacuums corners with a Dustbuster, she listens to the radio news–to reports about automatic- weapons fire in a school, a mass murder, a car crash, and a fire on the west side. Suddenly overwhelmed, the woman finds that she’s frozen to the spot: stuck.

While she’s frozen a friend and alter ego (Caryn Weglarz) comes to draw an outline around her in blue chalk–an outline eerily like the one police draw around a murdered corpse. But the friend hums idly as she draws it, as if she were performing some daily chore like watering the plants. Eventually Macklin gets unstuck and is fine–until the next time she gets stuck.

Macklin fills out this enchanting idea well. Apparently she began the piece with a story by Michael K. Meyers about “a woman who grooves on sorrow” and who “at night constructs and ascends staircases of optimism” from which “sorrows looked like toys.” The next morning always brought the woman disappointment and “fog rising from her teacup.” Together Meyers and Macklin have transformed this very literary text into a three-character fable.

By casting Weglarz, who greatly resembles her, as the humorous and faithful friend, Macklin makes possible a remarkable illusion. The first time the woman gets stuck, the light slowly fades on her as another one comes up on her friend, who lies with her back to the audience–and Weglarz seems to become Macklin’s inner self. Macklin casts her nine-year-old son, Thiago Lima, in the third role, the part of the woman’s son. Lima enters bearing a plastic sword and scabbard and wearing a plastic breastplate, proclaiming “I am Hope. I am her hope, get it? It’s a big responsibility for someone so small, but I can do it.” Lima hams it up just the right amount, and gets shy and swallows his lines just the right amount. His naturalness in the role redeems its potential sentimentality.

In the end, the woman comes to understand why she gets stuck. Unlike many other psychological dramas I’ve seen, Macklin’s piece feels authentic: a real discovery she feels impelled to share. Laughing, she races around the stage, taking the position in which she got stuck, then racing on to the next position as Weglarz and Lima follow her. Her giddy sense of grief overthrown is infectious.

The women’s bright, patterned dresses are by Weglarz; the colorful backdrop with Keith Haring-esque figures is by Wilhelm Hahn; and the effective lighting is by Tom Fleming.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Mark Krastof.