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All grown up
Elizabeth Keiserís playful Perversion

As Roseanne Rosannadanna used to remind us, itís always something.

Or as Elizabeth Anne Keiser will soon demonstrate, if itís not your mother, itís the kids on the playground or the proto-adult tribulations of the Big City that make us the nobly striving walking-wounded that we are.

She will be presenting her play Perversion Incognito ó which is billed as a musical comedy ó next Friday and Saturday, April 16 and 17, at the Carriage House in Providence. (Call [401] 831-9479.)

The show is a series of blackout sketches, some of them including a song and music. Many of the short quasi-autobiographical bits end with the strummed and sung lament, "Iím a pervert incognito ó itís not my libido, itís my mind."

The message is that what you donít know or are misinformed about sure can hurt you, or at least seriously droop your smile.

A video of an earlier version of the play performed at Catch a Rising Star in Manhattan gets that across.

A little girl, played by Keiser, tries to ask her mother in several different ways about sex. The reply is always "Go to your room!" (Although one time she is told that an abortion is when little babies that die go into a jar of formaldehyde instead of to heaven.)

OK, lack of information is one way to get all mixed up.

On the playground, the kid gets a confused but graphic description of sex from a girlfriend. Then she asks a boy sheís sweet on if he knows what a particularly intriguing variation is. He thinks fast, then demonstrates with her in a hilariously literal-minded fashion that befits a game 10-year-old male imagination.

Come high school, the feisty Elizabeth conspires with a firebrand girl friend to make a female teacherís life miserable, shouting in slam fashion the street names that she doesnít want her private parts to be addressed by. (The teacher has a harder time with a later poem that ends with a loverís heart and right testicle being clenched and banged together for retributive and musical effect.)

And thatís just leading to grown-up days withering at New York auditions. At the first one, Elizabeth is transformed from the T-shirted, bill-capped kid weíd been seeing into a siren (in both senses) in a red dress. She warbles one song in Spanish and another in an Appalachian twang, explaining to the casting director that she wanted to hide the fact that "Iím not the greatest singer."

The 1998 Catch a Rising Star performances taught Keiser which of the sketches worked best. Between that knowledge and wanting to include characters who contribute more directly to the theme of how our personalities are warped by outside influences, the upcoming show will be even more jam-packed with traumas and traumatizers. As Keiser puts it about the filmed monologues she inserted, "I portray about 12 different people pontificating."

This is the middle piece in a trilogy; each part addresses different groups of people.

"So the first part of the trilogy is for a younger audience ó itís called Boycrazystupid," Keiser explains. "The third one is more for a womenís audience, or a self-empowering kind of audience. Itís called 17,491 Kisses."

Perversion Incognito is decidedly for adults. It was performed last year at Stitches Komedy Kafe at Providence Place.

"Itís very much about the imposition that the media and society can put on a naive mind," Keiser says. "My lifetimeís experience of loving children and being a child at one point, but also the observations of other people and the choices that people make ó even in making passive choices."

At the Carriage House, she will be performing with actors Nadia Mahdi and Abraham Henderson. Music will be provided by Jim Bernier, Dave Peloquin, and Everett Brown.

After graduating from the University of Michigan, Keiser studied with Jeff Daniels at the Purple Rose Theater in Michigan, where the Hollywood actor still lives. As well as writing a half-dozen plays for adults, Keiser has written almost as many for grade-school children.

She has worked with more than 20 educational theater companies in New York and New England, including the Providence Black Repertory Company. Since 1999, when she came to Providence from New York, her day job has been with the Brown University ArtsLiteracy Project. Keiser tours local schools with two shows that promote literacy. One of them is titled Reading Changed My Life and presents one example for each of her characterís 103 years. As well as being a veteran stand-up comedienne, she is a member of Actors Equity Association and the Screen Actors Guild.

Back in 1999, Keiser was quite a stitch at Perishable Theatre in the Womenís Playwriting Festival. She played a 14-year-old genius scientist resurrecting cloned road kill in Hyperactive, by New York playwright Olga Humphrey. Itís good to see what Keiser can do on the other side of creative process.

Issue Date: April 9 - 15, 2004
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