On Stage: New East Liberty “Store”

November 9, 2009

Kate Watson-Wallace's "Store"It was a carefully staged entrance to a show. Kelly-Strayhorn Theater patrons received their tickets at an adjacent storefront where a retro hostess bid them “Welcome!” on a video loop. Beneath the video, a live female performer seemed to hoard assorted clothing.

Next door to that there was a 5-minute loop of three live performances, real twist on window dressing. As it turned out, they were flash forwards of the performance that was about to begin.

With these sneak peaks in place, it was time to dive into another “Store,” this one directed and choreographed by Kate Watson-Wallace on the theater stage. It didn’t have the conventional arrangement of a store with racks and shelves and clerks. Watson-Wallace displayed an array of clothing carefully arranged in rows of color-blocked samples. The packed floor was backed with cardboard boxes and pockmarked with several television sets.

Shades of Andy Warhol! Watson-Wallace was taking the idea of pop art, that which surrounds us and is part of our culture. But instead of familiar names and faces, the Philadelphia artist granted anonymity to her store (no neon sign), the clothing labels (too small to make an impression) and her performers (who began with their faces covered).

The performers emerged from the clothing rubble, although one barreled in from the back of the theater. The movement often hinted of social dance, but given more structure. This “Store” was, at its best imaginative in its perspective, at other times awkward, perhaps because the audience was removed from the activities in the usual theater setting. I would have seated some of them on the stage, perhaps collected on box-like risers, so as to be a part of the production.

“Store” was actually performed in an abandoned Rite Aid, and this, I think, would have given it more immediacy and more punch, particularly in the “emcee” section. As such, “Store” looked like a crumpled bit of American society that had lost its way.





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