STAGE REVIEW : 'Inaugural Gooseflesh' Takes Off at Zero Gallery

"If they ask us to take our clothes off," a fellow said about a half-hour into the group performance piece "Inaugural Gooseflesh" at Zero One Gallery, "I'm leaving."

How times change. Twenty years ago, "Inaugural Gooseflesh" would have been called a happening, and any call for the crowd to strip would have been rousingly complied with.

But it's the '90s, and everyone is keeping it under control. The idea behind "Inaugural Gooseflesh" is to invite an audience into a gallery filled with the wacky goings-on of various Dada artists and lead out of the reception into a trance-channeling session to revive the spirit of Salvador Dali.

This isn't everyone's idea of fun, but Tracy Young's production (utilizing material from Andrew Dallmayer's play, "Hello Dali") should be no problem. Even if people have forgotten about happenings--and much of the crowd the night I attended looked too young to remember anyway--haven't we been in audience-participation training, with "Tamara" and "Tony N' Tina's Wedding" and those murder mysteries?

Yes, but with every new show of this sort, we still have to be seduced to drop our natural inhibitions. That's the job of the actors, but it appears to be too much for most of Young's cast to handle.

With 18 characters--including Marcel Duchamp (Nick Tropicana) playing chess, gallery owner Sofia Maxwell (Alice Haberman) greeting you at the door and Penny Miglioli (Marta Foust) trying to get people to trance-channel with her--it's too much for even the most eager gallery bopper on a first visit. You can create Dada poetry with Zachary Street (an energetic Mark Burton), or try your hand at a drum set or a set of oil paints. For too much of the first half of the evening, though, most of the visitors stood around, ate tasty endive hors d'oeuvres and waited for something to happen.

Something did happen, out of nearly everyone's view. My companion, bored with the indoor entertainment, ventured outside to talk with homeless guy Frank Lloyd Right (Grant Heslov). Then the police drove by to see if she was OK: It seems that some local homeless men had been snatching purses, and Heslov had the men in blue utterly convinced.

I was lucky enough to find myself in a nasty spat between Sofia and a bitter, cynical writer, Vanessa Greig (Nell Balaban). Vanessa, a skeptic about channeling, turned out to play a big role in the evening's second part.

When Dali's spirit was revived, care of channeler Keir Reyzon (Joshua D. Rosenzweig), it jumped around from character to character. The funny part is watching a possessed housewife in the crowd, played by the loopy Paola DiFlorio, spouting Dali-isms ("I stopped to show the pure irrationality of will!"). Less amusing is how the Dali-isms go on and on, with actors generally unable to send them into crazy orbit.

A lot of work went into this show, much of it from the nice efforts of designers Jennifer Durham and Chris Pate. Too bad that it's at the service of a happening that isn't.

At 7025 Melrose Ave., on Thursdays and Fridays, 8 p.m., through March 16. Tickets: $15; (213) 466-7957.

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