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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the February 13,

2002 edition of U.S.

1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

In New York: `Brutal Imagination’

The horrifying details of the crime committed by South

Carolina mother Susan Smith are given a pretentiously lyrical, but

also compelling, resonance in "Brutal Imagination," the work

of poet Cornelius Eady, with jazz composer Diedre Murray and director

Diane Paulus.

Susan Smith was charged and convicted in 1994 of the deaths of her

two young sons, Michael and Alexander, ages 3 and 14 months


She strapped them securely in the back seat of her car that she then

pushed into a lake. The incidents surrounding the case are depicted

through an abstracted fiction laced with factual reportage.

The most powerful fiction is called Mr. Zero, the black man that Smith

invented for the authorities when she needed a fast and credible


for her conduct. And it is Mr. Zero who becomes the catalyst for


events through editorializing and poeticizing.

"Brutal Imagination" serves less pointedly to consider Smith’s

state of mind. This is dramatized from an emotionally cautious and

intellectually distant perspective. Mr. Zero, however, is a vivid

creation, one who fits Smith’s description to the police of the black

man in plaid shirt and knit cap who, she claimed, jumped into her

Mazda, gun in hand, taking her and the boys as captives.

The play is a series of monologues that have been culled, edited,

and transposed from a cycle of poems by Eady, enhanced with media

coverage. Exceptionally well acted (considering the limitations put

on them by the play’s structure and style) by Sally Murphy, as Susan

Smith, and Joe Morton, as Mr. Zero, the phantom black threat. Morton’s

character has an ironic twist and is allowed to engage us with a


of black stereotypes, giving us a brief, albeit redundant, history

of racial prejudice.

We see Smith as a composite of the fears, biases, and prejudices that

presumably come with the territory. Murphy’s most stirring moment

comes as she reads from the kiss-off letter sent to her by her married

boyfriend. Although the creators would like to make us quiver at the

thought of how easy it was for Smith to con the Southern detectives,

the fact remains that it took only nine days for them to break the

case and get a full confession from Smith.

"Brutal Imagination" uses mood music effectively and the stage

is provocatively set with an artistically conceived pyramid-like


consisting of various parts and pieces of a car, a baby carriage,

and other debris. The set, like the text, is soon scattered about

and unlikely to shed more light on this case than we had before we

arrived. Two stars. Maybe you should have stayed home.

— Simon Saltzman

Brutal Imagination, Vineyard Theater, 108 East 15th


New York, 212-353-0303. $15 to $45.

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McDonald’s Gospelfest 2002 auditions will be on Saturday,

February 23, at City Center Studios, 130 West 56th Street, New York,

from 2 to 9 p.m. All adult and youth gospel choirs, adult and youth

groups, soloists, Christian rappers, poets, praise dancers, and


are eligible to enter. A three-minute video or audio audition tape

may be mailed by Thursday, February 28, to McDonald’s Gospelfest 2002,

50 Park Place, Suite 1222, Newark 07102.

Summer Programs

New York Film Academy at Princeton University campus


a four-week acting workshop, Monday, June 24, to Sunday, July 21,

$2,500; and four-week filmmaking workshops, Monday, June 24, to


July 21, or Monday, July 15 to Sunday, August 11, $3,775. Call


or Website:

Westminster Choir College offers summer programs for high

school and middle school musicians. Vocal, music theater, piano,


flute, and organ camps and workshops . $675 to $950 including room

and board. Register. Call 609-924-7416, ext. 227.

Participate Please

Lawrence Arts & Music Festival seeks visual artists,


dancers, sculptures, actors, playwrights, poets, professionals, and

amateurs. The festival will be held Saturday, April 27. Call Pam Mount

at 609-924-2310 if you or your group is interested in performing,

showing, or volunteering for the event.

Monroe Township Library seeks an adult volunteer to serve

as the advisor to a youth chess club meeting one evening per week

beginning in April. Call Leah Kloc at 732-521-5000, ext. 116.

Contact of Mercer County seeks volunteers for the 24-hour

telephone hotline. Training classes in March. Call 609-896-2120.

Keep Middlesex Moving has a new Door-to-Door Directory

available at that features businesses that deliver


or services to Middlesex consumers at home or work. Call Cristina

C. Fowler, 732-745-4318.

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West Windsor Library, 333 North Post Road, is accepting

donations of books, CDs, audio books, video tapes, software, and small

arts items for its annual book sale, set for Wednesday through Sunday,

March 19 to 24. Tax receipt available. Call 609-799-0462.

Curves for Women, 217 Clarksville Road, West Windsor,

has a non-perishable food drive to benefit the local food bank.


at the fitness center are available with donation. Call 609-750-1100.

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