Gainesville Sun

Friday, May 10, 2002

'Lick' is a theater vision


Special to The Sun

With her new play "Lick," Sheila Bishop is asking for trouble. And that's progress.

Hitherto, when it was a man's world, it was strictly a man's prerogative to tempt fate with a show of force. It's a new millennium now. The gender wars are over. It is time for heroic ballads to be sung by the victors. "Lick" is Sheila Bishop's ballad.

Women are 52 percent of the population, not to mention your mother is one. As in all successful revolutions, there comes a time when quantity turns to quality.

The next question, as we know from game shows and the lottery, is: what do they win?

The answer is: their own peculiar sexual hang-ups that nevertheless join us together. It turns out we are one species after all

"Lick" is grassroots theater, the sort that has sprouted from the spoken word and performance art coffeehouses and cabarets all around Gainesville.

Lick: Love Lost, Sex Sought
WHERE: 1123 SE 4th St.
WHEN: At 8:30 tonight
ADMISSION: $1-$5 sliding scale
ALSO: At 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Acrosstown Stage Two

Bishop subtitles her play "Love Lost, Sex Sought." The play is brazenly erotic. Four characters who represent disparate aspects of the playwright's personality battle through depression, using sexual energy as a positive force for self-realization.

If that sounds a little heady, and it is, it boils down to Bishop's retaliation for having been dumped after a seven-year relationship with an apparent cad known only as Mr. Ex-Lover Man.

Bishop's divided self is comprised of Lucida, Dust, Crackle, and Diva, portrayed respectively by Bishop, Friedel Fisher, Laurie Reisman, and Lara Safire. They are costumed in nothing more than black slips. They aspire to an intimacy, Lucida says, "being naked in more than flesh."

The action of the play devolves to sensual choreography and geometrical patterns, while the hideous break-up unfolds and its tumultuous aftermath is recapitulated.

Mr. Ex-lover Man is succeeded with a litany of Woman-Meets-Boys encounters that sees the emergence of Anarchist Man, the semantic trickery of Mr. Delicious (whose lies are like parfait), and finally, Godot-like, the long-awaited Mr. Right Now!

Couched in the chords of our current cultural anthem, the message of "Lick" is a seemingly subversive one. "Lick" aims at turning "All About Me" into "Everywoman," an amorality play, indeed, a musical.

The narrative arch of the play is that of melodrama, the harrowing X-rated adventures climaxing in a happy ending. But the style is all over the place.

The staging shifts back and forth from representational, where the characters are firmly entrenched in their own world, to presentational, where the characters know full well they are in a play.

A Gainesville girl who made good, Sheila Bishop jetted through the International Baccalaureate program at Eastside High School and landed in San Francisco, where Mr. Ex-Lover competed with the conservatory of art for Sheila's heart, and momentarily won. She returned to Gainesville, hot for art and politics.

Cutting her teeth on avant-garde theater, Bishop produced a string of cabarets around town that blurred the distinction between spoken word and performance art.

"Lick" shows the influence of Pirandello, echoing his Six Characters in Search of an Author. There are shadows too of Artuad's Theater of Cruelty in the play's confrontation with humiliation. The performances, simultaneously passionate and detached, bring to mind Brecht, albeit without the overt political content.

The irony there is that Sheila Bishop is best known around town as the coordinator for the Civic Media Center, Gainesville's radical alliance of activists.

The connection to left wing causes is a tremulous one, but the play vibrates with it, pulsating with Women's Issues. Here, we are told, is what moves a woman, body and soul.

There is even a nod to the Bard, joining humanity in one lascivious quest. "Shakespeare's head wasn't just in the clouds of ethereal love when he wrote his beautiful sonnets," Crackle cracks. "The man wanted to get laid."

In "Lick," desire blends with fairy tales and nursery rhymes. It is a rite of passage, a learning process, for the audience as much as the characters.

The performers serve the play admirably. Friedel Fisher as Dust is open and impulsive. Lara Safire as Crackle is hard-edged and soft-voiced. Laurie Reisman as Diva is playful yet pouty. And Bishop's Lucida is wounded and wary.

While essentially plotless and preferring shards of poetry and bursts of soliloquy to dialogue, "Lick" aspires to ritual, a modern fertility dance that takes all its joy in planting.

"Lick" plays this weekend at the Funky Warehouse, which is funky indeed, before arriving at the more hospitable climes of the Acrosstown Stage Two next weekend.

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