New York

Fiona Templeton

The Performing Garage

Fiona Templeton’s three programs were in every technical way as far from the scale and splendor of Foreman’s Egyptology as they could be, yet once again the proscenium arch was tightly in place, the audience secure in its space and its role. Thought/Death, 1980, the oldest of the pieces, was still the most gripping and explosive, a rare example of minimalism infused with dramatic presence. In the “Thought” section of the work Templeton stood in front of the audience for perhaps ten minutes trying to think of something to say and never managing to do so (the only word, repeated several times, was “It’s”). The slenderness and abortive suspension of this moment led into “Death”; as the lights were brought up and down with a slow, strobelike pulse, changing every two or three seconds, Templeton “died” perhaps thirty times in different situations. Each time the lights came up she was discovered in a new position, either dead or dying, often falling. The obsessive minimalist repetitiveness of the schema was brought to glowing life by the authority and skill of the performer’s presence.

Templeton often works with semi-mechanical schemata offset by organic aberrations through which the human element at times glows like a trapped spirit, at times recedes invisibly into the net of the mechanical form. There Was Absent Achilles showed Templeton and Glenys Johnson at work in an office, dealing in apparently mindless, repetitive ways with scores of familiar objects (such as telephones and file folders) which more or less take the place of their personalities. The piece points to the fact that in so much of what we do “we” are not really present as sources of will or action but are merely dealing with objects in the ways that objects require us to deal with them, our “selves”eclipsed behind the processes of taking up, putting down, transporting, ordering, and so on.

The interpenetration of mechanical schemata with human attitudes was presented most fully in The New Three Act Piece. In the first act the four performers, all female, executed an amusing series of speeches and actions with moderate support from costumes and props. (The most audience-stressing moment was when a goldfish’s life appeared threatened by its use as an object.) In the second act the same series of speeches and actions were replayed, with changes in order: for three actresses the second act was a reverse sequence of the first; for the fourth, the same elements recurred but in irrationally shifted orders. The partial reversal played interestingly with the mind’s processes of memory and expectation, and led to a sense of completeness as what had unfolded in act one was (with qualifications) folded back up again in the second. The third act reversed sequences again in various ways, without ever fully restoring the original situation.

Under Paper Spells, 1982, was a different type of affair. Here it was not a grid of orderly patterning that the players were confronted with, but a materiality, a substance. Templeton and collaborator Miranda Payne appeared naked and interacted with one another in various mostly aggressive ways, dueling with large rolls of paper, dressing in them, disappearing in them, exchanging messages with them, and so forth. Though often amusing, this piece struck me as the least interesting. The quirky and personal response to intellectual rigidity that informs the other pieces seems to me an important part of Templeton’s offering.

All the pieces were tiny and rugged in comparison with the elegant sweep of Foreman’s extravaganza. Two were performed by Templeton alone; none involved complex or expensive sets, props, costumes, lighting, or sound. While Foreman serves Modernism up as a sumptuous hors d’oeuvre, Templeton is still attempting to use it directly for nourishment. Either approach raises questions at this most ambiguous moment. Is the solo performance along structuralist or phenomenological lines simply a sterile repetition of old experiments, as Richard Schechner has said? Or has Foreman jumped ship too early, when there are still significant areas to explore? Will a pluralistic age embraceboth these styles, and more? Both Templeton and Foreman are superb at what they do, though we may find that neither of them has foreseen the future as much as responded to the past.

Thomas McEvilley