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Sweeping statements 

Brooms gets to the heart of relationships

Okay, let's not get too excited. After all, Tamara Kissane and Cheryl Chamblee didn't invent the hybrid theatrical, literary and rhythmic form that two enthusiastic, beyond-capacity audiences witnessed during both hands theatre company's staged reading of brooms: a play about saying yes, last weekend at Manbites Dog Theater.

Sooner or later, any poet worth her salt explores the musical properties already present in human speech. But a select few, in literature and music both, have pushed that exploration into startling new territory. Decades before composer Steve Reich's experiments (including Different Trains and City Life), Gertrude Stein was writing spoken-word counterpoint in subversive texts like "Miss Furr and Miss Skeene," works which baffle readers to this day--up until the moment they are read aloud.

It's significant that these are Kissane and Chamblee's predecessors. It's equally significant that, judging by this outing, the two seem up for the job of extending the speculative enterprise of their forebears.

In this unabashed--and ultimately unsentimentalized--fairy tale for adults, magical realism enters four young women's lives through that most unlikely of vectors: a telemarketing call.

For only $99.99, the caller promises, the women can have the partner of their dreams, through the aid of a special broom. All they have to do is buy it--and answer a few probing questions, that is, about their partner and themselves.

All right: actually it's well over 200 questions, only a handful of which are covered on stage. And the even bigger catch is this: when the women get the answers wrong, the brooms know. Both over-romanticized happily-ever-afters and woefully inadequate personal info get stern warnings from the manufacturer--first by phone, then by special delivery.

But as things progress, we see four different characters find and face what they don't know about their prospective mates--and themselves. Beth Popelka's performance was nearly as incandescent as the text of her solo, which praised a lover who is "lit from the inside."

But some of the most moving work of the evening came from Kissane's character and performance. Visually an echo of Edith Piaf, the character has internalized her lover's abuse to a horrifying degree. When asked what feelings her special someone stirs up, her answer concludes, "I'd black out the windows, cut all the cords, block out the noise, muffle the footsteps, silence the tongues to/Keep loving/your long long long long hairy arms your mean teeth your big pressing thumbs screwed up tight eyes...remember when/you said/you wouldn't kick me out of bed--you'd throw me?"

To be clear, brooms is still a work in progress. Its opening flirts with ennui, meandering a bit before dropping us into the heart of the story, and the ending remains tentative as well. Elsewhere, its strengths are manifold and obvious. At its best, brooms combines the tricky incantations of Stein with acerbic insights on relationships worthy of a Sondheim--just minus the melodic line.

If brooms is this strong now, let's hope we get more than two nights to see it when it's finished. EndBlock

AMERICAN DANCE FESTIVAL: John Jasperse Company, Reynolds Theater, June 30, $23-$19, 684-4444; Festival of the Feet: Tap / Flamenco / Kathak, Page Auditorium, July 1-3, $36-$21, 684-4444; Acts to Follow: alban elved dance company, Andrews Arts, Lindsey Greene, Nicole Laliberte, Baldwin Auditorium, Duke East Campus, July 3, 6:30 p.m., Free; Shen Wei Dance Arts, Reynolds Theater, July 5-7, $23-$19, 684-4444.

FESTIVAL FOR THE ENO: Dueling Shoes, Belly Revelations, July 3; Alberti Flea Circus, July 3-5; African American Dance Ensemble, Paper Hand Puppet Intervention, July 4; Apple Chill Cloggers, Red Clay Ramblers, July 5. West Point on the Eno--Durham City Park, $25-$10, Children (12 & under) Free, 477-4549 or www.enoriver.org/festival/tix.html .

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