Crime or Emergency
Downtown diva Sibyl Kempson lets rip.
Tue Dec 15 2009
WIGGING OUT Kempson, right, looks at Iveson with alarm
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
No one could mistake Sibyl Kempson’s unhinged performance—in which she turns her own multicharacter play into a through-the-looking-glass cabaret—as anything other than experimental. The junk shop mise-en-scne (complete with a kitten oil painting) and deliberately unflattering costumes are pure downtown; the pretense of amateurishness concealing ironclad aesthetics reminds us of mumblecore or even Warhol. But Kempson, a playwright of terrifying gifts, doesn’t write like any of the avant-gardists you’ve heard before. She has a passion for finely drawn characters, a perfect ear for dialogue and a short-story writer’s economy. Indeed, Crime or Emergency—despite its hipster cladding and brutal assaults on our senses—is downright literary.
In the middle of a muddle of a set, Mike Iveson noodles around on the piano. He will play throughout, underscoring Kempson’s increasingly whacked-out performance with woozy piano-bar arrangements of early Bruce Springsteen. Like a silent film’s accompanist, Iveson drums up the melodrama as Kempson careers through extraordinarily detailed scenes: A pelvic exam that turns violent, a couple out for their first sail, an aging chanteuse’s brassy set. Kempson sings (and I mean this as a compliment) like a car horn in bad traffic. She also plays all parts and recites her own stage directions, which detail set designs of unimaginable complexity. Kempson and Iveson do whip themselves into a rather too-predictable frenzy by play’s end, but it’s Kempson’s text that actually does violence. Her scenes repeatedly describe people bewildered by their sudden capacity to harm—a marvelous metaphor for a young woman so frighteningly in command of devastating linguistic weapons.—Helen Shaw
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