Although much of "Lucy Juice and Other Family Recipes" is about death, the opening image is of birth, and it's one of the most poignant in this latest movement theater work by Splitting Image Theatre Company.
When we first see the show's two performers, Binnie Ritchie-Holum and Julie Herber-Dougherty, they lie curled together on the floor. Then they slowly separate, although Ritchie-Holum, as the mother, clings to her child as long as
It is the type of evocative imagery that has become the trademark of this distinctive local troupe. But "Lucy Juice" is not just about birth and separation. More important, it is about the daughter's struggle to come to terms with her homosexuality in the wake of her mother's sudden death.
However, unlike much of Splitting Image's previous work ("Family Masks," which dealt with alcoholism; "Closets," which dealt with sexual abuse; or even the troupe's initial namesake piece, which also explored mother-daughter relations) "Lucy Juice" often feels more disjointed than fluid.
As scripted and choreographed by Ritchie-Holum and directed by Harvey M. Doster, Lucy's struggle takes the form of a series of coming-of-age scenes in which Herber-Dougherty, as Lucy, dances with an assortment of partners who played pivotal roles in her sexual awakening (all portrayed by Ritchie-Holum).
There's the fat, slow-witted neighborhood girl whom the other children taunted, convinced she was a lesbian; an aggressive bisexual female performer; a lover who was like a twin; and a suicidal art student appropriately named "Di."
These scenes have a strong visual impact, but their impact is lessened by the interspersed passages of text. The bulk of that text is delivered by Lucy, who, in an odd twist, addresses most of her monologues to two dress forms, one adorned in a wedding gown and the other in a cutaway.
Ritchie-Holum speaks only at the very end, when she reads the final letter Lucy's mother wrote before her death. Addressed to Lucy and filled with understanding and pleas for forgiveness, the letter seems like the type of wish fulfillment most of us never experience after the death of a loved one. Indeed, that might be the way it's intended since much of this piece has a dreamlike quality. However, Splitting Image is a company whose strength has always been suggestion; this letter is a prime example of an excessively literal -- even preachy -- text overtaking subtle imagery.
In contrast, consider the powerful and complex pattern created by the repeated dance sequences. (The justification for the dancing, incidentally, is that Lucy's mother was supposed to have been a ballroom dance teacher, and in keeping with that, Ritchie-Holum is the more supple dancer.) At the end of each sequence, Lucy's partner dies and is then mysteriously transformed into her mother. Each time, Lucy adds an article of the partner's clothing to her own. Not only is she denying her mother's death, she is also taking on everyone's identity but her own.
"Lucy Juice" marks the close of the Theatre Project's 1992- 1993 season, and it is also the final production in the program of local residences the theater initiated this year. Though this particular work could benefit from some fine-tuning, it is still an excellent example of the sort of inventive expression the Theatre Project's support has helped engender.
'Lucy Juice and Other Family Recipes'
Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.
When: 8 p.m. tonight and tomorrow, 3 p.m. Sunday (An all-access performance will be held at 8 p.m. May 27 at Towson State University's Studio Theater.)
Call: (410) 752-8558