|a collective theatrical creation by THE LUCIDITY
You get screened, as if through customs, when you enter "The Earth's
Sharp Edge," to be presented by The Club at La MaMa May 1 to 18. If
you're a normal theatergoer, you'll make it through without incident. But
every night it plays, Thaddeus Phillips, the author and central character
of this seven-person performance, doesn't. This impish performer, whose
shows alternately specialize in tap dancing and puppet theater, is summarily
whisked away into "custody." A play then unfolds about the skewed
world we have lived in since the attack on America permanently changed our
mental map of the world.
You see, right after 9/11, Thaddeus Phillips, while carrying a book titled
"Extreme Islam," was detained last summer for a half-day at
Newark Airport after returning from Colombia and Morocco. The itinerary
itself was suspicious. Never mind that the book was an offhand present
he had received in a housepainting job, or that he was in Morocco to study
Arabic on a fellowship from the Independence Foundation of Philadelphia.
The normally puckish-looking writer/performer/tap dancer was sporting
a dark beard and he must have looked fishy. Being a theater person, he
is naturally garrulous, and the more he explained, the more suspicious
the security guards got--especially about a chapter in the book Phillips
was reading about Leila Khaled, the Palestinian terrorist remembered mainly
as the Nixon era's most alluring airline hijacker.
Amidst his interrogation, he was struck with the realization that he'd
found his next play: about a guy who gets stopped by airport security
after a visit to Morocco.
"The Earth's Sharp Edge" turned out to be a disquisition on
airport safety measures and terrorism, using flour sacks, dented desks,
toy airplanes, film clips and a cast of seven. Phillips is, by training
and orientation, a puppet theater maker. He is trained in Prague and proud
of it; his La MaMa productions include a watery, found object puppet version
of "The Tempest," performed in a child's wading pool. In "The
Earth's Sharp Edge," the protagonist's story is told largely with
improvised action and the magical use of objects. Bushels of sand are
poured out of Phillips' luggage to provide a desert background. A 40'
x 15' souk cover (as in a Casablanca marketplace) is pulled from a suitcase
to envelop the sandy set. Stewardess trainings from the 1960s are re-enacted
(to show how the job has changed from pleasing the male passengers to
watching for guns). Multimedia is played on several small screens and
terrorists arise magically out of suitcases. Scenes from the life of Leila
Khaled, a Palestinian airline hijacker and terrorist celebrity, are interwoven
with the narrative. Marakesh scenes and classic film clips play on small
video screens. In the cast of seven, everyone but Phillips plays multiple
Thirty years ago, Leila Khaled seized the attention of the world because
of both her magazine-cover beauty and her "nonviolent terrorism."
She helped hijack a TWA flight from Rome to Athens in 1969 to draw attention
to the Palestinian cause. No passengers were killed, but after the plane
landed and emptied, she blew it up. In a second hijacking a year later,
she was apprehended, only to be freed later in a prisoner exchange. The
play is all about "then and now"--the difficulty of Philips'
present-day interrogation versus the ease with which Khaled boarded two
planes with grenades strapped to her body and the charm-school training
of stewardesses back then versus today's training in vigilance toward
anyone from "earth's sharp edges."
The actors include Tatiana Mallarino, as the terrorist Leila Khaled,
who also appears magically out of a suitcase. It was Mallarino whom Phillips
had been visiting in Colombia (her homeland). "With both Colombia
and Morocco on my passport, I looked like both a drug dealer and a terrorist,"
he now muses.
Following a production at Denver's Buntport theater last month, The Denver
Post (John Moore) called the play "one of the most important productions
of the year, offering cogent observations on air travel, tourism, terrorism
and the pervading cultural mistrust that threatens to turn all nations
into isolationists." Denver's Westword Magazine (Juliet Wittman)
added, "I think 'The Earth's Sharp Edge' is about maps, borders and
crossings, the interstices between one place, time, way of thought or
state of being and another -- those liminal places where certainties dissolve
and new understanding becomes possible." The Colorado Daily (Brad
Weismann) asserted, "Phillips's assertion that that other points
of view are rigorously and xenophobically excluded from the American mindset
is not only correct, but particularly apt on the eve of a war that no
one seems to want save our cowboy president and the military-industrial
juggernaut behind him, the interests of which he appears solely concerned
with catering to….The controversial points it raises makes 'Edge'
a valuable experience, one that only theater, with its multiple real-time
perspectives, is capable of providing. At this point, anything that opens
the mind to different ways of thinking is desperately needed."
The piece is conceived, designed and directed by Thaddeus Phillips. It
is performed by Gareth Saxe, Michael Fegley, Gina Cline, Tatiana Mallarino,
Muni Kulasinghe, Kent Davis-Packard and Phillips.
Thaddeus Phillips is known as an ingenious whirlwind of a performer.
His solos at La MaMa have included a puppet version of "King Lear"
drawn out of a suitcase and the aforementioned version of "The Tempest"
while splashing in a children's swimming pool. In 1999, with Tea Alagic,
he appeared at La MaMa in a multimedia play, "The Filament Cycle,"
which was a love story, of sorts, in which a woman fleeing from the Balkan
wars encountered an American film artist intent on shooting disasters.
His last production, "Lost Soles" (2001), was a saga of a tap
dancer who escaped the mob by fleeing to Cuba and got stuck there during
Phillips' work has been seen at The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary
Art (MassMOCA), On The Boards (Seattle), Battersea Arts Centre (London),
4+4 Days Festival (Prague), Unidram Festival (Berlin) and The Painted
Bride Arts Center (Philadelphia). He toured worldwide as creator and performer
in "The Geometry of Miracles," Directed by Robert Lepage, and
is a 2002 recipient of a Pew Fellowship in the Arts.
"I'm always elated when I leave one of Thaddeus Phillips's productions.
It's something about the way he fuses intellect and feeling with an entirely
original vision of the world. Or the sense of possibility he excites by
making theater out of flour sacks and dented desks, toy airplanes, his
own voice and body, memory, clips and strings, bits of books, interviews,
politics, loaded images and the vagaries of the human psyche. Perhaps
it's simpler than that. Perhaps the way he plays with objects and distorts
our sense of scale plunges us back into the rapt absorption with which
we explored the world as children. But there's a heady sense of intellectual
exploration here, too". -WESTWORD