Big Real

Linda Austin at Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th, 777-1907, Fri-Sun 8 pm, through February 15, $9-12

In various press materials, Linda Austin describes her new one-woman show, Big Real, as a wallowing in, and possible extrication from, "a swamp of contradictions between the apparent constraints of reality and the apparent 'anything goes' freedoms of the imagination." It's a messy summary that doesn't make a lot of sense as the premise for a performance piece. Wallowing in the contradictions between reality and the imagination... ? Wha... ? And not surprisingly, the show that has resulted from this quasi-philosophical bibble-babble is similarly confused.

Big Real will appear in the Dance section of most community calendars, but with little traditional choreography, it plays more as performance art than anything else. Austin plays with plastic figurines, strums a ukulele-like instrument, outlines her own body with salt, and moves, catlike, in and out of Simon Crane and Val Williamson's cleverly constructed set of screens, secret panels, and windows. What emerges from it all is a beautifully staged, perfectly lit (by the always reliable Jeff Forbes), frequently self-absorbed hodgepodge of... stuff that interests Austin. Such stuff includes solipsism, scoliosis, the obscure 18th-Century poet Thomas Chatterton, and corks; many, many corks.

It's hard to tell what Austin is trying to convey in Big Real. The show is broken up by chapter titles and video projections of her performing the same movement sequence in different areas around town, but the transitions offer little in the way of clarity. The point of the video is mystifying, and its ugly, camcorder-looking style contrasts sharply with the elegance of the live proceedings. Real is at its most interesting when Austin reveals tidbits of her personal life via voiceovers or direct audience interaction. This biographical element also seems to be the show's lone through line, and tangents like the video segments are distracting, if not downright boring.

Austin is a seasoned and skilled performer, but Big Real, for all its frequent beauty and tenderness, feels like leftovers--a collection of unused bits, reflections, and sight gags that she decided to string together with the ribbon of meaningless mission statement. JUSTIN WESCOAT SANDERS

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