Theater Review: Kim Katzberg’s Penetrating the Space

Print This Post Print This Post

Under Construction at Dixon Place

Best not to expect a finished product when signing up to see a performance at Dixon Place, a downtown venue catering to artists of all persuasions looking to test drive their latest creative endeavors in front of a live audience.  Founded in 1986, Dixon Place exists to provide a space for writers and performers whose work might not be otherwise accessible because of its cutting-edge, provocative nature.

To get to the staging area after entering the venue from the street, one has to first walk through Dixon Place’s brilliant fundraising strategy, the bar, where a pre-theater crowd gathers and chats.  Thanks to alcohol’s great disinhibiting properties, a well-lubricated audience provides the additional benefit of being more receptive to the unconventional fare about to be offered up.  How else to account for the laughter that greeted Kim Katzberg’s highly unsettling attempt to communicate her personal struggle to make sense of her internal world?

Part of Dixon Place’s 19th Annual HOT! Festival, Penetrating the Space is described in the program as “a one-woman show in which a kooky bisexual performance artist and incest survivor mistakenly believes that theatricalizing her psychological fragmentation and integration in front of an audience will lead to mainstream acceptance in the acting industry and a big-time agent.”  On her website, Katzberg owns its autobiographical nature: “The show is inspired by my relationship with my Dad and with men in general.”

Eventually the doors open and the audience ambles in to fill the three rows of seats, the first of which sits on the floor of the performance area.  As loud music plays in advance of the show, stage lighting reveals a set comprised of a screen on which hangs a long black wig; a box of organic buttermilk pancake mix under a double spotlight; a black garment laid out on the floor; and a chair surrounded by and topped with assorted props including an ancient combination phone and answering machine, a phallic-shaped aluminum thermos, a box of Kashi cereal and a “Supersize Stickermania Sticker Album.”

At show time, the music stops and a character soon to be identified as Terry saunters on, carrying her music player.  Dressed in a low-cut, leopard-patterned jumpsuit, she dances erotically to the music and slurs her words as she begins to talk about herself. When the phone rings, she answers it “suicide prevention hotline.”

More characters will follow, introduced in the next scene by a film showing the aspiring writer-actor, Jinny, entering Dixon Place in search of an appropriate space for her work in progress.  She steps out of the film and struts onto the stage wearing a blue jumpsuit and pink patten-leather heels, commenting on the theater in an exaggerated, affected tone of seriousness.  In describing the content of her script, she shares that three orifices in her body have pockets where lives a secret, that her daddy touched her there.

Breaking out of role, Jinny confides to the audience, “I’m totally freaking out, doing this,” but bravely continues on as the wanton Purple-Horse Girl, riding her pony-sized stuffed horse, the aspiring model/actor Wolf Girl, whose fanged mask impairs her speech, and the part-time stripper and counselor Terry, whose suicide prevention advice to a gray-mustached man seen in several predicaments on film is “just don’t do it.”

In her hypersexualized roles, Katzberg presents the eroticized child grown up, eager to pleasure men/daddy, though always with an undercurrent of rage, most evident in Terry’s nonchalant responses to the guy trying to off himself.  As Jinny on film, the writer-actor complains to Terry by phone about being triggered by Richard, the only person who attended her one-woman show, describing how in response to him, she hovered above her body and was cutting herself.  “Because you work professionally with men,” she implores her friend, “tell me how to deal with this dissociation.”

The audience experiences these effects of living with incest in much the same fragmented way survivors do—without the benefit of integration.  The device of a play about creating and staging a performance invites the audience to accompany the writer-actor along this obstacle-encumbered journey.  Though Katzberg shares some of her intentions and trepidations, her relationship to her characters remains vague, perhaps imitating life more than she realizes.

The raw material of this work in progress has great potential to be shaped into a cohesive story of one woman’s attempts to wrest meaning from trauma by communicating the more uncomfortable truths about how incest affects children and the adults they become.  One hopes as Katzberg comes to grips with her own family history that she’ll achieve more control over the characters in Penetrating the Space and give the world the powerful performance it can be.

The 19th Annual Dixon Place HOT! Festival
Dixon Place
161A Chrystie Street
New York, NY 10002