The World According to Shempco

Stanya Kahn performs solo in The Ballad of Crappy and Seapole (According to Shempco). That is, unless you count the work's other, less animate characters: Shempco's friend Jurgen, an orange floatie; Crappy, a can of tuna standing in for a mermaid; and Seapole, a hair clip representing a skinny girl.

In case you're wondering, Ballad is not a cartoon. It's a cerebral play that includes video images, song and dance, and sock puppets. Fourth in a series created by Kahn, Ballad draws from her background in dance theater, writing, and political and social theory.

"My show includes a lot of abstract images acted out through physical theater," says Kahn. The tragi-comedy, which was co-directed by acclaimed performer and film director Harriet "Harry" Dodge, confronts issues of consumerism, social alienation and the lack of citizen power.

Kahn, who lives in Los Angeles, has been performing since 1987, and her solo and collaborative works have toured internationally. She starred in Dodge's film By Hook or By Crook (described by creators as "a movie about butches by butches"), which screened at the Sundance Film Festival.

In Ballad, she plays Shempco, a high-strung loner who's been fired from his job as a roller-rink clown. Sitting alone in his apartment, Shempco "choreographs" a play about Crappy and Seapole and talks with floatie-philosopher Jurgen about topics ranging from Vegas showgirls to Che Guevara T-shirts to unemployment.

Written during the boom years of the Clinton era, Ballad examines what happened to the people who missed out on the prosperity of the times. (The rink where Shempco once worked is bought by a computer cafe.)

Is the show out of date? Kahn argues that during today's widespread depression and anxiety, her message has become only more poignant. Ballad "reflects the vulnerable messiness we all experience when trying to grapple with the modern world," she says.

But the work is more than social criticism; it's supposed to be fun, too. Ballad has moments that Kahn calls "aggressive acts of hope," and the Las Vegas showgirl outfit is not to be missed.

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Mary Specht