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Review: Kiss Kiss Julie 

Dalt Wonk on ArtSpot Productions' latest avant-garde play

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What would Alice make of this Wonderland? Hard to tell. Alice is an innocent little girl, and ArtSpot Production's Kiss Kiss Julie, currently running at the Joan Mitchell Center, is anything but innocent. Or perhaps it expands "innocence" to include exploration of all manner of intimacies.

  Lisa D'Amour is credited as the playwright, but exactly what's written is hard to tell. There appears to be much improvisation within a prearranged structure.

  Kiss begins in a large barroom, where the audience sits at tables as though in a cabaret. There are several odd devices with miniature windows. People are encouraged to pick a partner and stare at each other through the windows while holding hands through other openings in the boxes. While awaiting the start of the show, a cowboy — actually a woman with a mustache — calls for volunteers to do a line-dance, letting everyone know audience participation is part of the evening.

  A synopsis of the show is difficult. Can one describe the logical relationship of patterns in a kaleidoscope? Most of the characters have several names and identities. Gender becomes flexible, and time is mutable as well. Vigorous, enticing performances make this unlikely jumble entertaining.

  The line-dancing cowboy is Bear (Ashley Sparks), who says he gave up rodeo riding for truck driving. He meets Punchy (Lisa Shattuck), who is dressed as a male security officer but strips down to a sparkling short dress and striped stockings — transforming into a Storyville strumpet. There is singing and dancing about love and sex to Sean LaRocca's tasteful electric guitar.

  The audience is invited to look around, pick out a lover in their mind and imagine being naked.

  August Strindberg (Nick Slie) bursts in with his companion Caddo (Rebecca Mwase). Strindberg wears a frock coat and wants to know why his plays are twisted into perverse fantasies. The actual Strindberg wrote Miss Julie, which premiered at the end of the 19th century and brought a shocking new class-conscious naturalism into theater.

  Strindberg says he's come to New Orleans to unwind, and that means Storyville. There are more sexually charged high jinks, including a bit of sadomasochism. Caddo, who seems to be a Storyville madam, sings some low-down blues.

  Fast forward to Miss Julie. Strindberg's play takes place in a nobleman's kitchen, so the cast of Kiss performs selected dialogue in the kitchen of the former Indigo restaurant, now part of the Mitchell Center.

  Then the audience is invited into a grassy courtyard, where there are stations at which the cast gets intimate with them. These stations range from small tented pavilions to draped ladders to a spanking station, which I observed but decided to skip.

  Kiss Kiss Julie is decidedly unconventional. Kathy Randels directs it with a sure hand, and the cast leads us through this maze of mirrors with admirable poise. Jeff Becker's set and Hannah Adams' lighting are spot on. The show sometimes seems to be looking for an ending before it actually finds one. — DALT WONK

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