Vanessa Sabourin in Monstrosities. Photo Credit Marc J Chalifoux Photography.
May 1 – 10, 2014
Joyce Doolittle Theatre
There is no moral/societal tut tutting in Urban Curvz and The Maggie Tree’s production of Monstrosities, a play that examines image and its harmful effects on certain women. No feminist lecture on how we are all beautiful regardless of our flaws or how the world defines us esthetically. Instead, Monstrosities, directed by Sandra Nicholls, introduces us to three women whose appearance spits in the face of the beauty norm and invites us to stare, to gawk, to hear their stories and make of them what we will. Freak? Victim? Appropriator? The verdict remains open to interpretation. It’s most certainly an interesting jumping off point for thought-provoking theatre, but unfortunately here the idea is often more intriguing than the execution.
Performed in post dramatic style (plotless) the play unfolds in three twenty minutes monologues and introduces us to three females , each of whom have been branded with the freak flag based on their particular deviance. Amber Borotsik tackles the first role as a woman with see through skin living a life of self-inflicted isolation as a kind of ode to the Japanese practice of hikikomori and to shield herself from the cries of disgust she encounters in public. But an online connection with a boy leads to his asking her out and we watch as she struggles to overcome her fear of rejection. While certainly we have empathy for this fragile creature’s struggle, our patience in this portion is taxed greatly by the repetitive day-dream trope that delays her exit. Not even Erin Gruber’s clever video projections that utilize traditional animation, live streaming and mashups of the uber romantic film Before Sunrise, help to bring traction to this ultimately deflated monologue. We note the conclusion of the scene with barely a shrug. We’ve briefly gawked, lost interest and moved on.
Vanessa Sabourin tackles the second monologue, employing a more distinctly attention grabbing character. Or perhaps monster is a better description. Dressed in army-like clothes with a waxy eyebrowless face and traces of scars on her neck, this is an aggressive creature that makes no apologies for her otherness. She’s known she was different from childhood when dental problems belied what was to come. Three sets of teeth later with new ones falling out all the time, made for an awkward adolescence we are told. Add to that an acute sense of other people who she possibly wants to eat coupled with her ability to be reborn and adulthood isn’t much easier. So of course it’s no surprise that a TV crew wants to film her and her baby for their “look at that freak, thank heavens it’s not me” style of reality show. Exploitation is the theme in this segment which asks us if the truly horrific deserve our sympathy. Credit should be given for not allowing sentiment to creep into the portrayal and Sabourin does a fine job spewing anger and painfully spitting out teeth. But the monologue suffers from fairly unimaginative staging, unimpressive video elements and bookend padding in the form of a tornado metaphor that oozes unnecessary esoteric showboating.
Kristi Hansen closes out the show as the woman formerly known as Long Jean Sliver, the porn star lass whose claim to fame was having a bigger penis than the men she starred with. Or at least that’s how she was marketed. As the strangely titillating, decidedly odd, melancholy and ultimately empowering scene plays out, we come to realize that when it comes to this woman, what you eventually see is not what others have claimed you’d get. It’s a brave and compelling performance by Hansen that would have benefitted from less reliance on what we assume is some kind of 1970’s porn or fetish film taking over the monologue while “Jean” sits wordless. This is a woman with much to say (and show) and silencing her in favour of a film facsimile felt like theatrical theft.
Each one of the three scenes in Monstrosities had worthwhile notions to explore but in different ways failed to land due to various directorial decisions and lack of narrative depth. Together they make an interesting suite of yet to be refined glimpses of what we normally stare at or look away from. Perhaps after looking a little harder at their creation and working on its weaknesses, this is a production that will resonate more strongly.
For the occasional theatre goer – With the post dramatic structure, loose monologue style that doesn’t offer up easily digestible stories and a somewhat ambiguous point to it all, this one is way out of your comfort zone. SKIP IT
For theatre junkies – Strong performers, some excellent use of video design and the seeds of several compelling ideas to ponder can’t help us fully connect with this underdeveloped play. But keep an eye out should it ever come back in what will hopefully be a more engaging incarnation. SKIP IT