january 2017 | Volume 151
Photo by Joel Clifton
Quote Unquote Collective in association with Why Not Theatre (Toronto)
The Cultch with PuSh International Performing Arts Festival
The Cultch Historic Theatre
Jan. 31 – Feb. 5
www.tickets.thecultch.com or 604-251-1363
Here's a sad and ugly truth—the PuSh festival premiere of Mouthpiece is fortuitously-timed.
In 2015, dual creator/performers Nora Sadava and Amy Nostbakken, along with their choreographer Orian Michaeli, had no way of knowing that the most powerful nation on earth would choose to elect a hideously narcissistic, poor imitation of a strongman with zero political experience rather than an intelligent and dignified woman who was more qualified to serve as president than any previous candidate in U.S. history.
In 2016, this marvelous Toronto creation might have been welcomed as a brave, energetic exhortation of feminist angst. A few grey-heads with memories dating back to women's liberation theatrics of the Seventies would have quietly viewed it as a tad retro. But in 2017, Mouthpiece is a cri de coeur that resonates with political relevance.
On opening night, this two-leotard-clad-women-with-a-bathtub dance/choral/psychodrama was in synch with those marches that united millions of women around the planet (and perhaps a million men) one day after Trump's inauguration to voice their objections to the sickening ascendancy of his resentment-mongering dictatorship.
Sure, the rhetoric from the current White House is anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican, anti-black. That's divide 'n' conquer stuff. But the disparaging anti-female mindset—so blatantly displayed by the boastful pussygrabber's unrepentant crudity—now casts a foreboding shadow over us all. And there's no quick fix. If someone assassinates Trump, we get Pence. That could be even worse for women.
These thoughts permeate to the surface about two-thirds of the way through Mouthpiece when the exhortations and choreography run out of steam, mainly due to a lack of story.
Until then we are fully galvanized by this plaintive, grieving, writhing depiction of one relatively privileged white Canadian woman who is tormented by the responsibility of delivering a eulogy for her mother.
To illustrate that we are not just witnessing a particular woman's story, but rather a panoply of frustrations and inhibitions and prohibitions relevant to contemporary women en masse, "the woman," who is never named, is depicted simultaneously by Sadava and Nostbakken. They push and pull each other but speak the same lines in unison. Their choral and guttural utterances are also twinned, often harmonically.
There is precious little humour, except when they imitate relatives and other intruders who call and disturb the perplexed daughter of the newly deceased. The protagonist tells us she was out drinking the night before. In the morning she woke, masturbated and learned her mother was dead. Such is life. This Everywoman is not unduly overcome with guilt or despair. Rather she feels harassed by the need to choose a coffin, make a speech.
For fifty minutes, the choreography and ever-entwined delivery of a shared monologue holds us riveted. But when they resort to repeating repulsive jokes told by men in order to disparage women, and keep moving that bathtub around for no reason, rather than unravelling how the main character is going to rise to the occasion for the eulogy, the audience pulls back and appreciates the show as it relates to the world outside the theatre. That ain't supposed to happen until after the show ends.
Mouthpiece is a remarkable and gifted tandem performance that most people with a brain and a pulse will benefit from seeing. But for a climax, don't tell us what happens when a woman walks by a construction site. Show us something we don't know—show us what ultimately happens at that funeral and what finally comes out of her mouth in public.
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