Tao Soup
Brooklyn Bay, 1825 SE Franklin, Bay K, 777-5879, Fri-Sat 8 pm, Sun 7 pm, closing this weekend, $12-15

Pop philosophy's commodification of "the moment" has spawned a clutch of artistic and psychological treatises addressing the importance of living in the Now. I don't generally enjoy the genre, foremost because I'm neither a hippie nor an angst-ridden yuppie, but also because I often don't like the Now, and rather than being in it, would in fact rather be sitting in a corner rereading a Henry James novel. Thus the title of Scott Kelman's current offering at Brooklyn Bay, Tao Soup, was cause for concern: I was worried I was in for an evening of haphazard performance art combined with a casual appropriation of Eastern religious systems. What I actually got was a refreshingly disciplined, self-aware exploration of the relationship between Eastern and Western thought, rendered humorously and clearly by a talented, hard-working ensemble.

Tao Soup was conceived and developed in Portland by director/guru Scott Kelman, along with a five-person collective known as the Drunken Monkeys. Each member of the ensemble (not counting Kelman, who delivers a disarming introduction) "stars" in a brief segment devoted to a particular theme, rendered via dance, song, and narration. For example, the most crowd-pleasing segment features Marc Otto as an anxiety-ridden everyman, crippled by fear and insecurity, while the other cast members portray a flock of birds that harass him into letting go of his fears and learn to fly. It's an almost unforgivably clichéd, banal setup, but the piece works because the cast seems to acknowledge the ridiculousness of the premise, while refusing to entirely lapse into parody. As Otto lurches around the stage moaning lines like, "Maybe she really is cheating on me," and "Do I smell like shit?" the rest of the cast preens and squawks in the background, delivering their (admittedly insipid) message with humor and aplomb.

The other four pieces in the production rely heavily on movement combined with the repetition of words and phrases, a technique that, while occasionally used to good effect, can also become simply tedious. Despite a few off-key moments, the work as a whole is characterized by the ensemble's striking ability to balance epigrammatic moralizing with disarming, off-balance humor