Los Angeles

John O’Keefe, Giuditta Tornetta, “Two Ways,”

Factory Place Theater

In Los Angeles, the thin veil between performance art and theater used to be a solid wall. Faced until the last few years with a theater fare of Broadway road shows and actors’ showcases, the city’s performance artists have been skeptical of theatrical methods. Now, small theaters are cropping up all over Hollywood and downtown, and performance and theater artists are workshopping, collaborating, and sharing audiences. “Two Ways,” a program (produced by Pipeline) of two pieces respectively by John O’Keefe and Giuditta Tornetta, provided an interesting viewpoint on the current mix of directions.

Don’t You Ever Call Me Anything but Mother was written and directed by O’Keefe, a prominent figure in the new California theater wave. O’Keefe cofounded the Blake Street Hawkeyes, of Berkeley, a group that included Whoopi Goldberg and George Coates; his award-winning works are much in demand, and his Aztec was the hit of the recent performance series at the new Museum of Contemporary Art. . . . Mother was a one-scene set piece in which actress Tina Preston played an elderly alcoholic, stumbling about her disheveled apartment as she engaged in a fantasy dialogue with her unseen son. The tension in both the writing and the acting built until the character became an archetypal figure of mythic proportions.

Performance-artist Tornetta’s piece, Mitosis, involved the enactment of the division of a primordial cell. A monologue accompanied by exquisite movement outlined the change as the cell, “dying of love for what is outside of me,” became that otherness, “whole as never before. I have the sense of inhabiting a me inhabited by others.” The text’s scientific elements provided a steady, comical counterpoint to the cosmic occurrence, creating a shell of objectivity around the implied personal transformation.

O’Keefe’s piece was strong and touching, yet it somehow supported a self-consciousness that left the audience watching for Preston to slip out of character or to betray her real age. One was always aware of technique, of the actress acting. Mitosis, by comparison, seemed to spring from Tornetta’s being, despite its theatrical elements—the script was adapted, very loosely, from a story by Italo Calvino, and Tornetta had relinquished directorial control to Scott Kelman. In a sense, the struggle between performance and acting (“inhabiting a me inhabited by others”) is a microcosm of the great societal struggle of the last few decades, the search for belief. Ours is an era in which trust is the central question, and performance art is perhaps a child of that need for trust. Unlike Preston, Tornetta did not seem to be acting; while making use of the theatrical trappings of director and script, she retained our belief. It may be that her journey through performance art has solidified a wholeness of intent.

Linda Burnham