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'Stupid Frailty' Looks at Quirks Of Life

Three one-person performances look at obsessions, love and life.

Laura Zam doesn’t want to draw a line between performance art and prose.

“I like to think of my work as short stories for the stage,” Zam said. “I tell all my stories in the first person, but they’re all fictitious. It makes the fourth wall between me and the audience a bit blurry.”

Zam, a playwright and performance artist, will have a chance to share her personalized fiction work when she performs “Stupid Frailty,” a collection of three solo-performer pieces at the Center for the Arts at George Mason University on Sept. 27 and 28.

“I started writing monologues in 1989,” Zam said. “I was an actor at the time, and one day I just wrote one, it just came to me.”

The piece was loosely based on her roommate’s obsession with a friend of hers. “He really liked it,” she said. “I was so inspired by it that I started to write more and more.”

With no formal training in writing but with a long background in theater, Zam said she allows the pieces to follow their own natural arc of a storyline.

“I’ve written probably over 100 monologues,” she said. “About 10 of my plays have been produced. Some are one-person pieces, but some are larger.”

Zam also spent five years living with a theater group in Prague, where she started to write larger performance pieces. “I directed a one-person, full-length piece there and resurrected it back in 1999, but that’s the last time I’ve performed a long piece.”

IN ADDITION to writing, Zam is an adjunct professor at George Mason University, where she teaches art and visual history in the technology department’s Interarts Program. That program combines various art genres to create something new.

Her performances next week will include three pieces, “Thursday Morning,” “Robert” and “Stupid Frailty.”

“The first piece is about a Jewish woman who meets a strange, drunken, Hispanic man at the post office, and he comes up to her and tells her she’s going to die,” Zam said. “It knocks her off her feet, and she comes to think this guy is Jesus trying to save her.”

A twist in the plot reveals the character’s racist slant on life.

“This piece isn’t about racism, but about what I feel underlies it,” she said. “It’s about being closed off to something outside your own realm.”

The central focus of the piece, Zam said, is found in the question, “What if someone has a revelation about life and isn’t healthy enough to deal with it?”

The second piece, “Robert,” is performed as a series of love letters written by Zam’s character to an old boyfriend.

“In her mind, it was a soul-touching relationship,” she said. “She thought it was mutually powerful and that the guy was afraid to respond to it.”

The woman has been waiting 3 1/2 years to hear back from this suitor, whom the audience sees carrying out his life in video clips that run while the letters are being read aloud.

As the piece continues, the woman comes to realize that the relationship is never going to go anywhere, and she gives up on him, Zam said.

The final piece, “Stupid Frailty,” is the most recent piece Zam has created.

“This is a story about a woman who is trying to transcend being a victim,” she said. “This woman is a victim of a car accident and has been slightly disfigured, but she’s also a sexual-abuse survivor.”

The story is about the woman’s search for a perfect, nonvictimized man on the Internet.

“To her, frailty is a victimization, which is why it’s stupid,” she said. “The tone of the piece is light and comic, but it does deal with some very heavy subject matter.”

CLAIRE MCDONALD is a fellow playwright, co-worker and friend of Zam’s at GMU, who said she’s eagerly waiting for next week’s performances.

“I met Laura when she was working with the education program at Arena Stage in Washington,” McDonald said.

“I haven’t seen her perform, but I’m really looking forward to it,” she said. “She’s one of those people who crosses the arts.”

McDonald said that Zam’s work is “accessible theater, it’s very thought-provoking.”

She hopes that, through this performance, GMU will be able to inspire some of its art students to continue their skills after graduation.

“We’re trying to educate our students to have a professional life,” McDonald said. “To have someone doing both is great. It shows that it can be done and not just in Hollywood or on Broadway,” she said about Zam’s combination of teaching the craft she also performs.

“She’s quite inspiring,” McDonald said. “She’s bringing theater and the visual arts together, and I think that’s really important.”

Kirby Malone is the director of the Multimedia Performance Studio at GMU, which he describes as the “research and production unit of the Interarts Program.”

“I’ve seen Laura perform a few times. She’s come to some of my performances,” Malone said.

Zam was an easy choice to fill the open adjunct professor position because “she’s out there doing it,” making it easier for the students to relate to her, Malone said.

“She lived in Prague for a while. She worked in a theater company there and produced a number of shows,” he said.

He’s eager to see Zam perform again because of how she presents her pieces.

“She does different things. Her work is more literary. She creates characters along the lines of what Lily Tomlin and Whoopi Goldberg used to do, but has the characters asking a lot of deeper questions,” he said.

“We’re really excited about her being with us and teaching in the Interarts Program,” Malone said. “We’re trying to get all our artists to be better able to write about their work as well as other students’ works, and her class really seems to be doing well."

The Interarts Program and the Multimedia Performance Studio are co-sponsoring Zam’s performances at the Harris Theater in the Center for the Arts at George Mason University. Admission to the show is free. Performances take place Monday, Sept. 27, and Tuesday, Sept. 28, at 4:30 and 7:30 p.m.