Too bad that it takes more than a gimmick and a cliff to seriously engage an audience--otherwise Jacki Apple's ocean-side, mini-extravaganza, "Palisade," would have everything going for it.

Little items like cogency, for instance, got lost Saturday in the 100-foot sprawl of the Rose Garden Trellis House in Santa Monica, where a cast of 26 meandered and postured and danced and posed, a la "Last Year at Marienbad," for this venture sponsored by Santa Monica Arts (SMARTS) Festival.

Even forgiving the ragtag production values, one would be hard put to justify the subtitle "cliffhanger," despite the natural backdrop of daylighted sky along the palisades parkway at Ocean Avenue. The metaphor seemed pretty good on paper: "a palisade as a defense of boundaries" in interpersonal relationships. But somehow the happening didn't happen.

Apple's and Jeff McMahon's text constituted the most substantial element, and its taped narrative--a double track of two lovers' voices--had its moments, especially in dramatically varying rhythmic counterpoint. Too often, however, the central couple, impersonated each time by different cast members with different social behavior, did laughable things to suggest their embattlement: furiously stabbing an ice cake; feeding ice chips to each other. . . .

And the freeze-frame effects of figures as window cameos had little impact, given the scale of the surroundings. Nor did the high-decibel screams that were interpolated into the sound-score count for much besides humor.

The best and sweetest part: five little white-haired ladies in white pantsuits--senior recruits from the Santa Monica Recreation Center--giving their performance-art all as a silent Greek chorus. Passing joggers, who saw them slowly twirl their arms overhead and face the ocean, must have wondered what this strange charade could possibly mean.

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