Different Look At The Difficulties Of Mating Rituals

Posted: January 27, 1998

At the beginning of Mating Cries, the two-person show Conrad Bishop and Elizabeth Fuller are presenting at Old City Stage Works, Bishop says he and Fuller don't want the audience to spend so much time trying to figure out the message of the show that they fail to pay attention to what actually transpires on stage.

For that reason he says, ``We will tell you the message: As far as we can tell, mating is very good idea. It is really hard sometimes, but it's a good idea.''

That's as good a description of Mating Cries as I could devise. Not only is there no overall design that links the show's six or seven unrelated segments concerning romantic involvement, there doesn't always seem to be a point to the individual scenes. What there is in this production of the Independent Eye (the company Bishop and Fuller founded and have been running for 24 years) are inventive skits, a script replete with insightful, poetic writing and an appropriate sense of ease and intimacy between the actors, who themselves have been mates for 37 years.

The imagination that cowriters Fuller and Bishop bring to Mating Cries is exemplified in a skit in which Bishop, as a high school boy at a dance, asks a girl to dance who turns out to be Kali, the Indian goddess of destruction. It's an inspiredly weird concept that, with Fuller made up to resemble the many-headed, multi-armed goddess, plays just as bizarrely. With Bishop's hapless victim seated on a bar stool, Fuller's Kali twirls him madly around to demonstrate his thralldom to the goddess. With the poor guy's head finally sliced off and shrunk into a skull on Kali's necklace, this is surely one of the times when mating is ``really hard.''

A skit about love in the workplace has Fuller and Bishop portraying two computer keyboarders working wordlessly side by side as Fuller's character, speaking what she is thinking, tries to come up with a way of getting the guy to ask her out. It's a light piece that plays trippingly to the rhythmic tapping of the terminal keys.

Not so successful is a piece about a couple who spend their married life entirely in their car. The conceit of combining the journey of a relationship with American society's excessive devotion to the automobile is more inventive in concept than performance, especially with Bishop and Fuller speaking though inexpressive puppets. The skit itself is a bit of a long trip.

The show's language is rhythmic, often lyrical, and more concerned with conveying a feeling, impression or image than in presenting a narrative. This is particularly suited to a piece about a couple meeting through a personal ad, which is composed almost entirely of the argot peculiar to that form in which the two, speaking alternately, describe their desires and dreams. The segment is more a read poem than performed theater.

In the concluding skit, the actors play an elderly couple forced by finances to move from their house into a cheap apartment. Bitter and despairing, they are reminded of the myth in which, when an old couple is asked by the gods what they most desire, they ask to die at precisely the same time. Instead, they are turned into trees standing forever side by side.

Although having the couple act out the myth with doll-babies representing the couple and masks on sticks as the gods is somewhat awkward, the final portrayal of the couple as trees, feeling the same wind in their branches and drawing the same water through their roots, is poignant. Nowhere in the show do Bishop and Fuller specifically refer to their long relationship, but watching them here, you know they have no doubt that their coming together has been a good idea.

MATING CRIES Written, performed and designed by Conrad Bishop and Elizabeth Fuller; directed by Bishop and Whit MacLaughlin. Presented by the Independent Eye.

Playing at: Old City Stage Works, 115 Arch St., through Feb. 15. Tickets are $13-$18. Information: 215-925-2838.

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