How politics can be both Intoxicating and Essential

The Boston Phoenix — by Skip Ascheim

Theatre-goers are in luck this week. If you're the all-politics-is-personal type, you can take an exhilarating dip in the intoxicating effluence of Daena Giardella's tsunami-tossed psyche, on display in her improvised performance piece Bare Essentials.

An enormously talented performer/improviser with a dancer's agility and a blues belter's larynx, Giardella turns a largish playing space with an apartment's worth of clutter into a gonzo gymnasium of the mind. Her persona, Rita Callibrani, a 40-year-old temp with two master's degrees, careens around the psycho-physical furniture for two and half hours, sharing fears and fantasies, baring bizarrities, and, from time to time, daring the audience to jump right in (verbally, usually). When someone does, he or she is instantly a prop in Rita's psychodrama.

Not that Giardella's improvisation relies on volunteerism; she's not beyond coercing participation, whether it be foisting tampaxes on all and sundry (in celebration of yet another menopause-defying period) or simply embarrassing late-arriving yuppies trying to slip into their seats. Her continual, often seamless inclusion of the here and now creates an edgy tension between detached amusement and empathy -- an atmosphere much enriched by the crackling keyboard and soaring vocals of musical collaborator Alizon Lissance.

When she isn't paying attention to us, Rita (an admitted "recovering serial monogamist") is obsessed with her inner tapes: ex-lover Paula, ex-husband Jack, her Italian-immigrant parents, her dying friend Fran -- and those are just the real people. More persistently intrusive is her pesky, pouty inner child ("powerful enough to make you spend ten thousand a year just to find me"), who keeps reminding Rita how scary everything is, and who isn't above a little audience solicitation herself ("Could you live with us and be our human affirmation machine?"). Finally, Rita obsesses on obsession itself. Little wonder that she wigs out, donning a tattered robe to become a knife-wielding wild woman or hauling out her boy-toy doll, Blanky, a life-size mummy with larger-than-life genitalia, for a mock-erotic interlude.

Giardella's satire cuts both outward, to the many issues and fashions of the day, and inward, to the luxury of self-absorption itself. She rarely lets herself off the hook, and her characters have the heft and advantage of surprise; just as she seems to be descending into Wendy Wasserstein wimpery she'll veer off into Ionesco inspired looniness. Try to get your analytical hooks into her and she'll turn, like your average slippery neurosis, into something else.

I left having learned a thing or two about life from Rita Callibrani.

For more information call 617.924.9596 | 1.877.777.4849 (Outside Massachusetts) or by email: © 2000 Daena Giardella

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