THE EARTH'S SHARP EDGE

May 1 - 18, 2003
Thursday - Saturday 10:00pm
Sundays 5:30pm
The Club

designed and directed by: Thaddeus Phillips
created and performed by: Gina E. Cline, Kent Davis Packard, Michael Fegley*, Muni Kulasinghe, Tatiana Mallarino, Thaddeus Phillips, Gareth Saxe*
*appear courtesy of Actor's Equity Association


a collective theatrical creation by THE LUCIDITY SUITCASE INTERCONTINENTAL

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 roles.

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 Castro's takeover.

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

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