Laurie Anderson Misfires on Political Satire

IF you were wondering what happened to Laurie Anderson, the pixi-ish, spike-haired wonder woman who practically invented performance art in the 1980s, she's back, touring with her latest work, "Voices From the Beyond."

She hasn't been invisible. Several of her video projects have aired on Public Television, and she's hosted the show "Alive From Off Center." By Ms. Anderson's own account, she's been watching a lot of TV: the Gulf war, the Thomas-Hill hearings, the William Kennedy Smith trial. It's an understatement to say she hasn't liked what she's seen.

Her performance piece at Sanders Theatre here gave her ample opportunity to vent her frustration, disgust, and anger. The simple stage was dominated by a screen and synthesizer, with Anderson sitting on a stool in front, her script in hand. Projected on the screen throughout the show was a single slide of an empty road. There were only three songs to break the monotony.

Anderson is a gifted storyteller, and her program began with a tale about her kooky grandmother who wore big hats and was convinced she could convert the Japanese into Baptists. Anderson's voice has a smooth, melodious, unhurried quality that makes her voice delicious to listen to.

But her monologue quickly degenerated into a harangue against President Bush, Congress, the Supreme Court, the National Endowment for the Arts, conservatives, and moralists. It was as if Anderson had taped together all the liberal columns printed in every newspaper in the United States, threw in a handful of genuinely funny observations of her own, and called it art.

Political commentary can be an art. It demands a light touch, a sensitivity to hypocrisy in oneself as well as in political opponents. And above all, it requires humor. To Anderson's credit, she didn't scream or bludgeon the audience with her factoids and simplistic blame-laying. But her humor was not the humor of tragedy inverted, it was satire laced with cynicism.

While the two-hour plus performance hardly broke new ground, it did show that Anderson writes with great scope and conviction. One wishes she would stick more to the fertile ground of her own imagination.

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