Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Even Slave Magic Fails (Again)

"In 'Conjur Woman,' a folk opera for a single performer, the venerable actress Sheila Dabney, working with three proficient musicians onstage at the La MaMa Annex, creates a potent spell seasoned with the power of myth.

She plaintively addresses the walls, as if searching for another slave, her beloved. Her tone is enraptured: 'Out of dem all he is de smartest an’ de strongest — an’ — he fetch a good price.' He escapes from overseers and is hunted by dogs. She plots his rescue.

A turbaned sorceress, she pulls trinkets from the bag, intent on using her enchantments to transform her beloved into a tree. But as with Daphne’s fate as Apollo pursued her, escape comes at a price. When the white man finds the tree and cuts it down, it is the Conjur Woman who mourns.

The play — by the avant-garde actress and educator Beatrice Manley, with a haunting acoustic score by Ms. Dabney, Mr. McGruder, Ellen Stewart and Mr. Tsuji, and directed by George Ferencz — gains dramatic heft over its 45 minutes, though it could use greater variation in its dirgelike pacing. By the end, the character’s protracted suffering can grow repetitious. But at its best moments, the production has the incantatory impact of a fever dream."

- From Andy Webster's review of 'Conjur Woman', in the New York Times

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