30-seconds matters when you stand up to sexual aggressor in a crowded elevator, his threats escalate, and noone will have your back

[I laughed when I first saw this review the morning after the show opened at Lorraine Hansberry Theatre. My husband and the director, as well as my friends were enraged – though a few appreciated my dark sense of humor enough to understand why I laughed. My mother said, “Well, she just didn’t know what she was talking about.”

My mother was right: 30-seconds matters when you stand up to your aggressor, his threats escalate and noone in a crowded elevator will have your back.]

February 21, 1994
‘CUSTARD PIE’ DOESN’T CUT IT: 30-SECOND INCIDENT IS THIN FODDER FOR PERFORMANCE ART
Author: JUDITH GREEN, Mercury News Theater Writer

“INDIGO Lady” persuaded me that Nena St. Louis was a writer to watch. But “Essays on Anger and Custard Pie” proves she’s not a performance artist.

Moreover, just as one swallow does not a summer make, one fine piece does not keep a writer immune from cliches, purple patches and inflation — the tendency of performance art in general to make something out of nothing.

“Custard Pie,” which leads the 1994 “Lift Every Voice” festival at the Lorraine Hansberry Theater, makes far too much out of a 30-second incident of sexual harassment in an elevator. St. Louis plays herself, three junior executives and a wealthy client, three secretaries, two street toughs who leer at her and a timid black woman who effaces herself against the paneling.

She also plays the spirit of her feisty great-grandmother, whose custard pie, a remedy for pre-menstrual blues, was a family tradition. (Beating eggs for the custard worked off the tension and eased the cramps.) However, the spirit visits her as the result of a piece of custard pie at lunch, so St. Louis prefaces Grandmother Lilly Griggs’ remarks with a belch, which grows more and more unlovely with repetition.

That’s the first half, which is tolerable. In the second, a nightmare sequence, all these characters come back and visit.

The elevator incident can’t carry the kind of spiritual or social epiphany with which St. Louis burdens it. Besides this, the piece is grossly overwritten and the characters shallow. As an example of both, she calls the junior executives, who won’t defend her against the mashers, “the cowardly curs they surely were” — a lot of bad writing for such a short passage!

The piece has improved (some) since I saw its first draft last fall at the Marsh, and the hand of director Ifa Bayeza is apparent in the staging and, especially, the lighting, which isolates St. Louis in the elevator or her own bedroom, as need be. But the director can’t create an actor where there isn’t one. St. Louis’ mugs and grimaces aren’t acting, and her girlish voice hasn’t enough color or texture for character.

Nena St. Louis wrote “Essays on Anger and Custard Pie” — and tries to act it.”

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The Harpy Tribunal, live multimedia performances (Prospectuses)

I am interested in live performance opportunities. I have 17-years of experience as a touring theater artist, the expertise to produce stage-ready presentations, and the technical skills and software/equipment set-up to broadcast live. My current stage-ready performances are part of a series video performances and performance art movies about a goddess who awakens after 10,000 years in a coma. She is bewildered and horrified as she becomes more awake and remembers that her sisters put her into a coma as a punishment. In the live multi­media performances of The Harpy Tribunal and The Harpy Sisterhood, the actor/performer interacts with the Sisterhood portrayed on video.

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The Harpy Tribunal.

The multi-media performance is approximately 7 minutes long from entrance to exit. There are three distinct parts. The performance (a) begins with the accused Harpy angrily intoning her distress and finally collapsing in tears; (b) continues she silently waits for her sisters; and (c) ends as she silently, respectfully listens to her sisters sing their accusation. Actions in the video and live performance are ritualistic, choreographed – i.e., very formal due to the solemn theme: a trial of a goddess by her sisters for the treason of disagreeing with them and saying they were wrong to create humans.


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The Harpy Sisterhood.

The multi­media performance is approximately 10 minutes long from entrance to exit. There are three distinct parts. The performance begins with the accused Harpy asleep and dreaming as the background video shows her sisters rejecting her. She screams herself awake. In the second part, The Harpy silently waits for her sisters as marching steps and gong signal the gathering of the Sisterhood Harpy Tribunal.

In the third part, the Harpy silently, respectfully listens to her sisters sing their accusation but begins proclaiming her innocence. The Harpy Sisterhood ends with the Sisterhood marching out. Actions in the video and live performance are ritualistic, choreographed i.e., very formal due to the solemn theme: a trial of a goddess by her sisters for the treason of disagreeing with them and saying they were wrong to create humans.


The live performer will portray the accused Harpy. The effect should be theatrical; the live performer will not break the Fourth Wall i.e., interact with the audience any more than a real­life accused would interact with spectators or the jury in a courtroom. The ongoing story of The Harpy is, ultimately, an exploration of what “peer” status is in society and how that status is affected when a member of society rejects decisions or standards that have been agreed upon or accepted by their peers as a group. In the Harpies’ world, law and punishment are relentless in the end, the offending sister is condemned to a 10,000 year coma; when she awakens, her entire species including her sisters have become extinct. The story is also an exploration of whether in the big picture society allows itself to be affected by dissension/protest, and if so, whether the result is a positive or negative impact. I suspect the impact will be reflected in the responses and reactions of each audience member and his/her judgment not only of the Harpy, but also of the judges.