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Monkey Business

The Theatre of Relativity puts the hard sell into Incorporated.


When the CEOs of America's largest corporations see their salaries rise 440 percent in ten years while layoffs and cutbacks leave their employees hurting, the obvious question is: What's wrong with this picture? Maria Antonia Andujar and her new company, Theatre of Relativity, propose some answers with "a multimedia sketch produced by a collaboration of European and American artists" called Incorporated.

Directed by Andujar, who credits Marie and Mattieu Rodde, Paul Nevins and Roger Pawlak as cocreators, Incorporated has a lot to say about corporate greed -- perhaps too much. Commentary on bioengineered food, growth hormones, consumerism, pollution, animal cruelty and the fascism of female beauty products leaves room to digest little else in ninety minutes.

Before the evening begins, the Master Puppeteer (Stephanie Reed, who is grating in the way of a maniacal children's-show host) throws glitter on the house and then climbs into her roost above the action. The actors -- some in white face, some wearing masks -- take their places on a multitiered stage for actor warm-ups to which audiences usually aren't privy. Taylor Gass, whose all-black outfit is accessorized with a huge bra, gives herself a breast exam while Bryan Sanders lies on his back and meditates and Michael Strelow freezes in thoughtful repose like Rodin's The Thinker.

In short order, the company members perform skits, dance and play against video images of themselves. One scene is set on a harsh assembly line where, like a sequence in Lars Von Trier's Dancer in the Dark, the workers break out of their ennui with a few salsa moves. Telecommunications companies get lashed, as does the media, particularly when Strelow plays a mad prophet of the airwaves. He's actually wearing the outer skeleton of an old TV screen, and he might as well hold a fun-house mirror up to the audience and scream, "You're as guilty as they are!"

The cosmopolitan creators -- whose credits include the International Theatre marathon of Malaro, Barcelona; audio-visual companies in France; and the Moulin Rouge -- give the show a quirky energy that can seem disjointed and chaotic to American sensibilities. White-face mime, for example, may give Europeans cause to pull up chairs while causing Americans to cringe. The show feels like a continental buffet that offers so many different cuisines that less-adventurous diners may be nauseated by the overstimulation.

Yet some elements are so cock-eyed that they're weirdly ingenious. Andujar makes excellent use of children's furniture and toys. (She's also credited with the set design.) In a corporate boardroom scene, the actors are seated in the tiny chairs one might see in a kindergarten, and a jab at health care features surgeons wielding tools from a kit that might have been made by Fisher-Price. It may be a comment on how product placement can hook consumers even before they're out of diapers -- think of the children's book that requires Cheerios to complete the tale, and you get a hint of the show's cynicism.

Other members of the company (who seem never to leave the stage) are Emily Schenberg, Jaime Mitchell, Kim Watt, Glenn Stewart and a woman named, simply, Constance. Lucia Lettini's costumes are mostly all-black tops and slacks with some curious adornments -- business suits maintain their lapels, button-down collars and ties in the front but are completely backless. They give added meaning to the end of Act One, in which a scene about climbing the corporate ladder requires its players to devolve into primates not yet up to walking on two limbs. Incorporated is the not unwelcome reminder that it's a zoo out there. Post Script: If Harold Arlen isn't the most famous lyricist of the last half century, it's not because his songs aren't timeless. Think of a couple of Judy Garland or Frank Sinatra songs, and you'll hit upon an Arlen. Starting with his first hit, "Get Happy," the list would balloon to include "Stormy Weather," "I've Got the World on a String," "That Old Black Magic" and "The Man That Got Away." And then there are the songs he wrote with Edgar "Yip" Harburg for a little movie musical called The Wizard of Oz.

The Heartland Gay Men's Chorus salutes Arlen next week with its show To Oz & Beyond. "We look for at least one of our programs to be a lighter repertoire," says Executive Director Rick Fisher. "This one was commissioned by the Boston Gay Men's Chorus. And there is so much in it people will know."

In addition to Arlen standards, the chorus performs a thirteen-minute condensed version of The Wizard of Oz that Fisher describes as "all of the sound bites crushed into a monster medley." Costumes? "Oh, yes."

The chorus, in its sixteenth year, should have a pair of CDs available at the Folly Theatre shows June 15 and 16. Next on the hundred-voice chorus' agenda is a summer swing through Europe, with performances in London, Hamburg, Germany, and the American Cathedral in Paris with those cities' men's choruses.

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