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The audience needs the liberating

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/1/2011 (2948 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Dionysus was the god of wine, ecstasy and all-out freedom -- especially for women.

Three young female actors have co-created a feminist show for StrindbergFest called Dionysus is Getting Impatient. The title is the first clue that this work of "physical theatre and textual lineage" will be too conceptual for its own good -- stuck in the heads of its creators rather than communicated to its viewers.

The title presumably suggests that it's high time female characters were liberated from the morally and socially suffocating roles in which male playwrights of the past have eternally imprisoned them.

But it's the viewer who ends up impatient with this self-indulgent, obscure and very long hour presented by Theatre Incarnate.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/1/2011 (2948 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Dionysus was the god of wine, ecstasy and all-out freedom — especially for women.

Three young female actors have co-created a feminist show for StrindbergFest called Dionysus is Getting Impatient. The title is the first clue that this work of "physical theatre and textual lineage" will be too conceptual for its own good — stuck in the heads of its creators rather than communicated to its viewers.

The title presumably suggests that it's high time female characters were liberated from the morally and socially suffocating roles in which male playwrights of the past have eternally imprisoned them.

But it's the viewer who ends up impatient with this self-indulgent, obscure and very long hour presented by Theatre Incarnate.

In any art form, you're in trouble if your audience needs to read reams of introductory notes to orient itself to "get" your piece. Director/performer Brenda McLean writes that she was inspired by an essay discussing thematic similarities between Strindberg's landmark Miss Julie (1888), Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen (1890) and The Maids by Jean Genet (1947), as well as the influence Strindberg had on Jean-Paul Sartre's existential No Exit (1944).

So McLean, Kendra Jones and Claire Therese decided to create a fluid, non-linear, merging, repeating "mashup" that riffs on situations and characters from the four dramas.

You're welcome to feel smug if you recognize all the references and recycled dialogue. More likely, you'll sit there in growing frustration. (Who knew advance study was required?)

Either way, the only point conveyed is that these fictional women — and, one supposes, all women of their eras — were desperate, victimized and trapped. "I haven't got a self!" the trio chants.

To give the three their due, they're creatively ambitious, well matched and impeccably rehearsed. All three performances are strong, fearless and committed.

McLean's notes say the three "feel privileged to not be confined by the worlds these women lived in" and the play is a "celebration of this," but no positive perspective can be discerned.

The set is a white room with three shelves for props, including glasses of red wine. The three are nearly identically costumed in riding clothes and high boots. They're trapped in an endless, absurd game in which they ritually act, sing and dance scenarios of class- and gender-based dominance. As in No Exit, they seem to be held in the space by unseen captors.

Is self-annihilation the only liberation? Three suicide weapons — Miss Julie's straight razor, the teacup laced with poison with which The Maids' Claire ends it all, and the pistol Hedda Gabler fires at her temple — weigh heavily here.

There's lots of name-calling, taunting, shouting, shoving, kicking, slapping and whipping. There are lines such as, "Your pistol is impotent.... You're just a pool of filth beneath a veneer of propriety!"

The piece lacks a dramatic shape; the intensity is almost unrelieved. There are multiple climaxes and false endings. At the point where a character says, "Stop yelling! You irritate me!" she speaks for many in the audience.

By the time misogynist quotations from Strindberg are accompanied by a long spell of chanting "WOH-MAN! WOH-MAN!," the straight razor starts to look tempting.

alison.mayes@freepress.mb.ca

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