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Show asks: Who's afraid of performance art?

There is an outpouring of solo stage shows under way as part of the Bending Minds with Spoons Festival, featuring a dozen or so members of the Off Center Artists' Collective at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

The festival provides a chance to ponder the question: What is this thing called performance art? Several thoughts came to mind during Sunday night's triple bill, featuring pieces by Noreen Maier, Josephine Dorado and Karla Hartley.

First, the written word is still paramount in the relative success or failure of a piece, judging from Maier's Poor Poppa (the name of one of her father's fishing boats), which managed to combine quite effectively the memory of a 10-year-old's infatuation with Olympic gymnast Olga Korbut and gently barbed commentary on Sag Harbor, N.Y., an old whaling port turned chic resort.

Maier's script had a literary tone that suggested that 25 years ago, she probably would have been a short story writer instead of a stage performer.

Stylized movement is another stratagem of performance artists, exemplified by the more persuasive parts of Pumped Up and Plentiful, Grabbable Mounds by Dorado, a funky dancer and sometimes over-the-top writer. Her piece was amusingly obsessed with the bad poetry of "straight-girl ingenues" and their maddening unattainability to someone of Dorado's "ambisexual" nature.

Sex _ especially lesbian sex _ is the big theme in a lot of performance art, no surprise given their autobiographical bent. Exhibit A: Sex, Love and Life's Other Graces, a mixed-media work seguing between film and onstage monologue, in which Hartley explored such dilemmas as "how does one tactfully and tastefully get a one-night stand out of the house in the morning?"

Hartley's wacky impersonations _ barroom pickup artist, long-suffering wife, self-important businessman _ had the audience howling, but her sweet finale on silence speaking volumes indicated more than just a wiseacre at work.

Theater review

Bending Minds with Spoons Festival at the Off Center Theater of Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. Linda Grimm and Michelle Juristo perform at 8 tonight. Tickets are $10 and $14. Call 229-7827.

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