EVOKING BOHEMIAN MEMORIES
by MEL GUSSOW
The New York Times
January 20, 1989, Friday, Late City Final Edition
SECTION: Section C; Page 3, Column 1; Weekend Desk
In her quest for novel ''site specific'' locations for environmental theater, Anne Hamburger has taken intrepid audiences into abandoned storefronts, converted warehouses and city streets, from which we watched a play enacted on and around the facade of a high-rise apartment building. The latest excursion of Ms. Hamburger's En Garde Arts company is to the Chelsea Hotel, with a series of performance-art events featuring downtown artists and evoking the hotel's bohemian past.
For each of the three plays on the opening bill (repeated this weekend), theatergoers are packed into tiny one-room apartments to watch -really to overhear - private conversations. The plays do not necessarily benefit from being seen on location; each could be staged in a theater on a single set. But in varying degrees, the work is intriguing, especially so in the case of the final event, a collaboration between David Van Tieghem, the performance-art percussionist and composer, and the dancer Tina Dudek.
Warned that the elevators in the Chelsea are not reliable, theatergoers are shepherded up the staircase to a third-floor apartment, which appears to be in the process of being converted into a farmhouse. There is grass on the carpet. The title of the play, written by Stephan Balint of Squat Theater, is ''Little House on the Prairie.'' This is, in fact, a relocated, urbanized version of that popular television show, as enacted by Alexandra Auder, Rebecca Major, Mr. Balint and a live goat standing in for a third ''Little House'' sister.
There is a certain wackiness within the whimsy, especially when the actresses play scenes directly with the goat, which peers over the edge of a child's playpen to regard the audience with quizzical detachment, as if to ask what we are doing in this stuffy little room. We could return the question. In the background, on a television screen, is an episode of the real ''Little House,'' should one want to check for authenticity.
The second play, the creation of Penny Arcade, takes place in a nearby apartment and puts us up close (too close when the pizza starts flying) to the last sad days of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen (Stephen Wastell and Ms. Arcade). Spaced out and wired, the two are lounging on an unmade bed watching television and waiting for something, anything, to happen.
A rock journalist awkwardly interviews them, but when they speak -Ms. Arcade with a natural flamboyance, Mr. Wastell in a stupor - the play succeeds in approximating the ennui of the real-life characters (as in the film ''Sid and Nancy''). Both actors achieve a verisimilitude, shared by the trash-filled setting. Coming after the goat version of ''Little House,'' this play raises serious questions about the housekeeping standards on the third floor of the Chelsea.
The final play, ''The Room,'' moves theatergoers to a neat, relatively hospitable apartment for a domestic argument between Mr. Van Tieghem and Ms. Dudek as a couple breaking up. After Ms. Dudek leaves in anger, Mr. Van Tieghem expresses his pent-up anxieties by orchestrating the apartment into an acoustical environment, inventively tap-tapping a table, a bed and a fireplace.
With the return of Ms. Dudek, the two dance on the table and then she moves to the mantle where she lurks like a wingless bird. Employing electronic sounds as well as a television screen, the show evokes an eeriness as if in preparation for a robotic invasion. On the screen, there is a scene that could have been clipped out of ''Close Encounters of the Third Kind.''
Though paying a price for audience discomfort, the plays hold one's attention. But as the goat bleats, as Sid and Nancy squabble and as the percussionist's sounds reverberate, one wonders what the neighbors are thinking - perhaps that this is a night like any other night at the Chelsea. En Garde Arts' first expedition into the hotel could awaken the ghosts of Sid, Nancy, Jimi Hendrix and Dylan Thomas.
Room With Goat
AT THE CHELSEA, production manager, William H. Lang; stage manager, Elise-Ann Konstantin; design consultant, Scott Bradley; produced by Anne Hamburger. Presented by En Garde Arts. At 222 West 23d Street.
LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, by Stephan Balint.
Mary ... Alexandra Auder
Laura ... Rebecca Major
Man ... Mr. Balint
A QUIET EVENING WITH SID AND NANCY
Nancy ... Penny Arcade
Sid ... Steven Wastell
Interviewer ... Mitch Markowitz
Delivery Boy ... Giorgio Deus
THE ROOM, by David Van Tieghem with Tina Dudek. Portions of this piece were derived from the play ''Legend of Sarah'' by James Gow and Arnaud d'Usseau.
GRAPHIC: Photo of Penny Arcade & Stephen Wastell (Tom Brazil)