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Unmasking fear

'Sick' explores family's germ obsession; 'Freefall' celebrates letting go

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
In 'Sick,' a Manhattan family goes to extremes to protect themselves from many imagined threats.

Lately, with fears of the H1N1 flu rocking the public psyche, bottles of antibacterial hand sanitizer grace office desks and retail countertops. In some world cities, medical face masks have become the new accessory. And cultures with affectionate cheek-kissing greetings are now finding their traditions the subject of public health concerns.

A few years ago, when playwright Zayd Dohrn began writing 'Sick,' a quirky comedy about a Manhattan family and the absurd extremes they go through to protect themselves from pollution, he had plenty of material at hand. He was living in Beijing during the height of the SARS epidemic. Dohrn relocated to China from post-Sept. 11 New York, where health-threatening environmental fallout from the terrorists attacks was dreaded.

Now here in Austin — as H1N1 fears still makes headlines — Capital T Theatre is opening a new production of 'Sick.'

In Dohrn's offbeat play, a family of germaphobes believes they have allergies to everything from junk food to cleaning supplies to the Manhattan air. When their vacuum-sealed home is invaded by a visitor, chaos crescendos.

The New York-based Dohrn — whose parents are former Weather Underground leaders Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn — has garnered a growing interest in his plays from theaters around the country. 'Sick' has been produced by theaters in Dallas and New Orleans and at the Berkshire Theater Festival.

The 32-year-old Dohrn spent the first four years of his life living in hiding with his parents as they attempted to avoid prosecution for their anti-Vietnam War activities. Though 'Sick' doesn't specifically reference his early years, he admits that a certain sense of personal struggle runs throughout his work.

'A lot of what I think and write about deals with constraints and looking for a way out, especially in family situations, when the struggle to live free of constraints can take an emotional toll,' Dohrn told The New York Times recently.

We think of dance as a continual process of bodies moving up and off the ground, levitating and lifting past everyday Earth-bound movement.

But for all the elevating inherent in dance, bodies giving way to gravity can be just as much a part of the artistic vocabulary.

So it is with 'Freefall,' a trio of new modern dances from Austin choreographer Cheryl Chaddick.

'This new set of dance works was inspired by the idea of freefalling,' says Chaddick, who relocated to Austin last year after spending more than two decades in San Francisco's busy indie dance scene.

In 'Freefall' the declivity is both literal and symbolic. Chaddick offers images and scenarios where all kinds of things are let go — one's ego, a sense of everyday familiar, a beloved home and even fear.

Especially fear of what's different from ourselves.

'(These are) stories of overcoming life's challenges and accepting ourselves and each other for who we are despite our differences,' Chaddick says.

jvanryzin@statesman.com; 445-3699

'Sick'

When:8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through Dec. 5

Where:Hyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd St.

Cost:$15-$25

Info:479-7529, www.capitalT.org

'Freefall'

When:5 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through Nov. 21

Where:Salvage Vanguard Theater, 2803 Manor Road.

Cost:$12-$15

Info:www.chaddickdancetheater.com