Untitled Feminist Show: A Play without Words that Speaks Volumes
As I sat patiently waiting for the lights to dim inside the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts theater in San Francisco, I could feel the twittering nervousness of all those around me. We were all here to see Young Jean Lee, the New York playwright phenom’s Unititled Feminist Show. We all knew that we were about to see something divinely different, a play with no words and… no clothes. Six naked bodies using movement to tell multiple stories around the theme of feminism, it was hard to imagine what that would look and feel like for all of us.
The lights slowly dimmed and all of a sudden you heard the breathing. This was loud and heavy breathing which was not coming over the speaker system and yet filled the theater. All of a sudden the audience, myself included, were craning our necks to find the source of the breathing. Then like magic they appeared in the audience on either side of the theater, breathing and totally naked. As these six women made their way down to the stage they walked right by us, down the aisle with absolutely nothing on their bodies. I have seen a lot of naked women in my time so I was not expecting to be shocked. I was wrong. It was shocking to see all these women of different heights, weights, body types and colors casually strolling down to the stage, aware of our collective unease while at the same time being totally inside the power of their nakedness.
That initial shock and attention to their nakedness wore off quickly once they hit the stage. The musical selections, from classical to rock to N.O.R.E.’s beats from “Nothing” were just perfectly set throughout the entire play. The movements by the actors were nothing short of brilliant. Although the entire play is wonderful three vignettes stick out for me. The first one a singular performer is on stage, the music is so low it is barely audible, she starts pointing to men in the audience and mimics sex acts that she would do to them. It was incredibly vulgar and also brilliantly staged. It reversed the roles that men and women inhibit in society today. We are always inundated with vulgar imagery from men towards woman, so much so that sometimes we become immune to those images. But watching a woman, a naked woman, simulate those same acts, not only took us out of our comfort zone, again, but poignantly showed the absurdity of reducing men (or woman) to sex acts.
My second favorite vignette was a slow motion fight scene between the entire cast. This was amazing! First, because it felt like we were watching the fight in slow mo, the actors so adept at moving hyperslow and second because it felt like a real fight. Their facial expressions of anger, surprise, hurt and pain were so vividly depicted. It was a powerful commentary on women hurting other women either by blows and in many cases with words. And they showed this without saying a word which was brilliant.
The third vignette was a solo piece performed to aggressive music. The performer started on stage shaking and jerking her body to the music, stopping every once in a while to look directly into the audience with different expressions: angry, defiant, hurt, etc. Then she came into the audience, dancing aggressively on different audiences members. I was one of the people she danced on and it was so interesting to feel her energy so closely entwined with mine. I could feel her anger and defiance and it made me feel empowered. When she finished her piece, the audience roared with applause. Her energy had filled the room and each person sitting in it.
The whole show was magnificent. I was surprised that during the last piece I realized that I had forgotten they were naked. So invested was I in the movement that their nakedness became irrelevant to the stories they were trying to share with all of us. When the show finished the cast came out, fully clothed, for their applause and funnily that was shocking. We had met them in their glorious naked bodies and we were leaving them dressed in the trappings of social norm – clothes. It felt oddly uncomfortable.
I didn’t know what to expect when I walked in, but I knew that it had changed me when I walked out. I highly recommend that if you have the opportunity to see this game changing show that you make every effort to do so. It will open your eyes, play with your mind and tug at your heart.
It is playing next at the Habour Front Centre in Toronto at the Fleck Dance Theatre (235 Queens Quay W, 416-973-4000, HarbourFrontCentre.com) in Toronto, Canada on February 12 – 15. The show begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $39 per person.
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