TV Reviews : ‘Speaking in Tongues’ Reconceived for the Tube

At once Paul Taylor’s nastiest and most complex dance-drama, “Speaking in Tongues” sardonically depicts institutionalized religion creating a social structure for the very sins it condemns.

Originally seen by UCLA audiences two years ago, this haunting, hourlong portrait of a hypocritical community comes to the PBS “Dance in America” series tonight (7 p.m. on KVCR Channel 24, 10 p.m. on KCET Channel 28 and KPBS Channel 15) in a version reconceived for television.

As before, a tortured, carnal Man of the Cloth (Elie Chaib) dominates brutal interplay by members of his devoutly corrupt congregation, with only His Better Half (Cathy McCann) demonstrating any genuine spirituality. Music by Matthew Patton again helps Taylor’s world seem both familiar and dreamlike: a place of homey menace.

However, this time Taylor moves outside the skeletal church setting into an equally bleak townscape, with original designer Santo Loquasto creating distinctive environments for the overlapping stories. Moreover, some of the scenes now take place in tightly enclosed spaces--and the work’s abrupt shifts into the future, fantasy or memory are accompanied by changes of locale or directorial style.


After a ruinously discontinuous opening sequence (20 cuts in the first minute alone), director Matthew Diamond settles into effectively showing off Taylor’s choreography and company instead of obliterating them.

With each of the characters given a unique movement-personality, the dancers emerge vividly as individuals. Chaib’s acting may still be at theatrical scale, but his agonized solos work powerfully in the intimate TV context, even when shot in silhouette. The serene McCann and the intense Thomas Patrick (as the abused outsider) look especially brilliant here and a scene of domestic conflict comes over with extraordinary force as danced by Francie Huber and Joao Mauricio.