Untitled Feminist Show by Young Jean Lee’s Theatre Company at World Stage 2014. Fleck Dance Theatre, February 12-15 8PM. Practicalities
As Young Jean Lee explains in interviews, Untitled Feminist Show started off as a naked play with words, but whatever those words happened to be and however many or few, the audience would always leave the show caught in endless academic discussions about feminism. That wasn’t her goal: the idea was to offer a theatrical experience they’ve never had before. So the words were removed – though some singing and vocalizing remained, and there is a lot of recorded music. Considering that the naked female bodies of varying shapes and sizes almost inextricably come with shame and anxiety in just about all contexts, to have an hour of no shame and no anxiety nakedness is in itself something worth seeing the show for.
In other respect, the show uses many traditional theatrical tools. For instance, the individual character. Each performer acquires a distinct personality in the course of the show, and we are definitely not observing a chorus of the Greek tragedies or an operatic mob. Music is crucial in almost every scene and it colours them in intelligible moods, gives each the dancing beat and in many ways “dresses” the women. There is a lot of choreography – a lot of it riffing on the tradition of classical dance, and after a while it is easy to discern who among the performers had a training in dance and who hadn’t. The bodies themselves are not entirely left au naturel and have been theatre-proofed too: the body hair was under control (being a Yeti myself, I am bound to notice the lack of hairy legs), the majority of the performers are what we traditionally see as very attractive, and all of them are young-ish (I’d guess under 40). So, the symbolizing went on even without the language – or, the language found many ways of seeping in through other kinds of sign-making (musical, choreographic, the body shaping practices, and the non-verbal narratives).
Still, some scenes are more straight-forwardly narrative than others. We open with a scene of story-telling that could be best described as a fairy tale were it not for its continuously shifting grounds: that could be an evil witch with a hungry Quasimodo-ish sidekick, and the two of them could be paralyzing girls into unconsciousness in order to eat them, but then again, that could be a very different story of a group of girls on a playground, or something else entirely. There are enough twists to keep you wondering. Or the tutti episode with a techno beat and witty choreography that turns out to be about giving birth and mothering a baby. Then again, the episode of courting and loving between two women (danced by Katy Pyle and Madison Krekel) is easily legible, as is the hilariously dirty invitation to sex to the select audience members mimed with a child-like innocence by Amelia Zirin-Brown aka Lady Rizo.
Becca Blackwell and Jen Rosenblit each had a remarkable individual episode that kept you guessing, interpreting and feeling. Blackwell’s rendition of a simple musical tune in a sequence of very disparate psychological states, and Rosenblit’s dramatization of anger are both full of rawness and expressiveness not frequently available in theatre.
Remaining performances are tonight, tomorrow and Saturday night.
Photo by Blaine Davis