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[whitespace] Tugging on the heartstrings: Elizabeth Fuller, Conrad Bishop, and a slew of puppets explore six different incarnations of love in Mating Cries.


True Beauty

'Mating Cries' merits love at first sight

By Daedalus Howell

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, a dynamic duo of thespians has descended upon local stages--award-winning theater veterans Conrad Bishop and Elizabeth Fuller are making a new home in Sebastopol. As a respite from a national tour, the lifelong collaborators are bringing Mating Cries, their suite of six original micro-plays exploring the slings and eros of amour, to their new home for a single weekend.

Judging from a mid-January performance in San Francisco, Mating Cries is a splendid brew of art and love, delivering a hearty serving of wit, insight, and stagecraft sure to arouse even the most curmudgeonly paramour.

From the get-go, Bishop and Fuller's sparkling onstage chemistry is awesomely apparent--imagine an Elaine May and Mike Nichols for the west county set. Opening the production is the charming playlet "Dreamers," in which the couple trade punchy epigrams about love, loaded with such suggestive gems as Fuller's line "I want a bouquet of lovers--but they wilt."

Later, "The Dreamers" finds Bishop and Fuller parsing the personal ads of a mismatched couple, whose sheer loneliness hastens compromise of their ideals. Though this is well-trodden territory for parody, Bishop and Fuller offer new and satisfying gags and provide insight into how far a heart will bend before it breaks.

The weak link in Bishop and Fuller's otherwise brawny theatrical chain is their first-act closer, "Freeway," which gets caught on the rough shoulder of an overwrought "highway-of-life" metaphor. It's the tale of garrulous newlyweds represented by grotesque puppets who ride through a series of pap platitudes until, mercifully, they wreck and die.

Though the first act dead-ends in "Freeway," Bishop and Fuller come roaring back full throttle in the second act with "At the Prom with Kali," which finds an Omaha teenager going stag at his senior prom until he cuts the rug with the Hindu goddess of destruction. The deadpan setup is worth a chuckle, but the story take a fulfilling tack as the young lover becomes mired in his harrowing erotic tryst.

The equally satisfying "Transcripts" finds a pair of typists in the midst of their labors while Fuller's lovesick character realizes her internal musings about her colleague are somehow bleeding into their shoptalk.

Bishop and Fuller are versatile performers, but they're also crackerjack playwrights, as indicated by their deft retelling of the Greek myth of "Baucis and Philemon." The story--in which an aged couple show hospitality to a couple of gods disguised as mortals who reward them by turning them into intertwining trees--is a bittersweet exploration of lifelong love.

The production values in Mating Cries are a study in economy--the sets and props are minimal, the music is spare, and the costumes are merely suggestive. In lieu of spectacle, however, Bishop and Fuller offer the eloquence of their performances and the comic profundity of their text.

As they suggest in their program, "Erotic bonding is often difficult in this world we've created, but nevertheless, it's a really good idea." That sentiment applies equally to Mating Cries.


Mating Cries plays on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 21 and 22, at 8 p.m. at the Subud Center, 234 Hutchins St., Sebastopol. $10-$15. 824-4307.

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From the January 20-26, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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