Lisa D'Amour: Magic Places; Her Locales Are on the Map, but You Haven't Been There Yet

Article excerpt

WEST VIRGINIA, 1978: Lisa D'Amour is in the throes of a debut production--a site-specific passion play for Easter Sunday. Show business is never easy. The audience scales the mountainside with difficulty. The lead actor--D'Amour's best friend, whose long hair clinched the role--struggles with the weight of playing Jesus. (Literally: She's having trouble shouldering the cross as she trudges toward the vegetable-garden Golgotha.) Maybe the next production will go more smoothly. After all, the playwright's only eight.

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NEW YORK CITY, 2006: Lisa D'Amour's intrepid spirit remains insatiable. Perched on a sofa at New Dramatists, where she is a resident member, the 36-year-old New Orleans native (and former Carnival Queen) recounts a childhood packed with road trips and intense outdoor play. A mischievous twinkle in her eyes belies an otherwise unassuming demeanor (she's dressed in nondescript khakis and a white T-shirt). It's easy to understand why her colleagues describe her in the language of paradox: Her work is "inexplicably familiar," notes Anthony Barilla, artistic director of Houston's Infernal Bridegroom Productions, where D'Amour is a resident playwright; she possesses a "mysterious clarity," ventures Loretta Greco, artistic director of New York City's Women's Project, which produced D'Amour's The Cataract this past year; she is "zen and wild all in one," declares Polly Carl, producing artistic director of the Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis, where D'Amour has spent considerable collaborative time.

D'Amour's inventive early years have transmuted into a theatrical sensibility that is uninhibited, intensely visual and unapologetically ritualistic. "There's something about the ritual of the moment," she says. "I insist on dealing in a concrete, tactile way with the magic reality of performer and audience living and breathing in the same room."

The recent work of the Obie-winning playwright and director reads as a map of her itinerant past. Her earthen-but-sensual The Cataract, produced last season at Perishable Theatre in Providence, R.I., in collaboration with the Theatre of a Two-Headed Calf, as well as by Women's Project, was inspired by St. Anthony Falls in Minneapolis, a city where D'Amour occasionally lives and often works. Her Tale of a West Texas Marsupial Girl debuts at Minneapolis's Children's Theatre Company in January. Marsupial Girl, as well as Hide Town, which opens Nov. 16 at Infernal Bridegroom, reflect D'Amour's hankering for the Lone Star state, where she spent her graduate school years. Meanwhile, Stanley (2006), at New York City's HERE Arts Center through Nov. 18, hearkens back to her New Orleans roots. ("I was born in St. Paul and spent parts of my childhood in Maryland and West Virginia," she grudgingly confesses. "But I rarely claim that because I feel like such a Southerner.")

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In Austin, D'Amour earned her MFA at the University of Texas studying with Erik Ehn, Mac Wellman and the late David Cohen--and within months of graduating, she was collaborating on Ehn's Enfants Perdus (a premiere with Frontera at Hyde Park Theatre that nearly turned the venue inside out in its radical staging), as well as participating in Ehn's RAT network. Simultaneously, she was testing her own skills as a solo performer in Austin with Into the O, a short piece inspired by the logo of a local appliance store.

It was around this time that D'Amour met Katie Pearl--an actor and director with a similar zeal for visual language and site-specific work. The pair began with such collaborations as a 14-hour site-specific performance at an intersection in Austin (a series of slow-moving events in a grove of trees that, according to Pearl, "people never looked at because they were too busy driving past it") and a pair of solo performance installations, Slabber and Dress Me Blue/Window Me Sky.

"WE BEGAN WITH A SHARED INTEREST in making people see what's really there," reflects Pearl. …