Category Archives: Theater

Montreal stories reverberate in The History of Sexuality

Erika Rosenbaum Photography

Erika Rosenbaum Photography

It doesn’t matter if it’s a classroom or a strip club or a bus stop or a Mile End apartment—you can think about sex wherever you are. And not just sex as an act or a symbol but sex as sexuality, as its ascriptions and prescriptions. You can think about sexuality in relation to yourself, you can wonder about it in relation to another. The fictionalized verbatim play The History of Sexuality commands that you think about it, theoretically, relationally and personally, for its duration.

Writer, director and producer Dane Stewart is a Montreal-based, multidisciplinary queer artist and academic. Stewart’s method stemmed in part from his question, “How do you ethically write someone outside of your own life experience?” He interviewed queer folks in Montreal, transcribed their discussions, and worked their words, experiences and edit suggestions into the fictional narrative that is The History of Sexuality, shown at MainLine Theatre this September. The result is an ensemble of dynamic and dimensional characters that appear to possess real histories. Stewart’s well-timed punches through the fourth wall of theatre are facilitated by these respectful stand-ins for real experience.

The ‘quirky lesbian professor’ figure of Marie guides five on-stage students and the audience, Greek-chorus-like, through Michel Foucault’s three-volume tome charting sexuality in the western world. Between drags on her vape and jokes about Cinéma l’Amour, Marie asks her class of Concordia Master’s students to define sex, to explain power, to critique the French philosopher. They do so through the spotlight’s sudden flicker onto their own scenes of interiority.

Marie (Renée Hodgins) and Gayle (Annette Marmen) experiment with their relationship following a challenge to Gayle's physical ability. Photo: Peter Ryaux-Larsen.

Marie (Renée Hodgins) and Gayle (Annette Marmen) experiment with their relationship following a challenge to Gayle’s physical ability. Photo: Peter Ryaux-Larsen.

It is the knowledge of Stewart’s innovation that makes the production. Reminding ourselves that the characters are based on people we live with in this city (and, for some of us, on people we live with in this city’s queer community), the stories gain a heaviness. Knowledge of ‘the real’ legitimizes, and without it the characters may be read as simplified clichés: the submissive twink, the hot virgin, the ignorant straight white male who wears white button-downs and confusing shoes (compliments to the costume designer; straight white men often wear confusing shoes). The characters’ ridges and bumps of individuality protrude in the important conversations they hold between themselves. A crash course on stripping is narrated in synchronicity with an exposition of escorting. The multiple, distinctly individual modes of sexuality and approach are made visible, as are the points of intersection. While these interactions play out under the spotlight, it feels as though the characters stilled in darkness are listening in, just like us. Acknowledging that nothing happens in a vacuum is rare for theatre. Why shouldn’t the painful, pacing anxiety attack of Madeleine impact the refusal of definition made by ‘boy-girl’ Darr? And then there is the collective orgasm, characters alone and coupled in their corners of pleasure on stage, to capture that feeling of ‘everyone is fucking on a Friday night.’

While a range of lived experiences is made visible (to our voyeuristic delight and pedagogical benefit), what is unfortunately invisibilized is racial difference. Save for one character, who must carry the impossible weight of racialized sexuality all on her own back, the cast is white. This is not representative of the queer experience. Representation is a widespread problem in the Montreal arts, but The History of Sexuality is another reminder that we are not changing, or not changing enough. In Foucault’s words, revolution does not always lead to social upheaval.

But it is also Foucauldian to say that a challenge to power comes from detaching the power of truth from the forms of hegemony, social, economic, and cultural. The play possesses an academic bent that is ultimately humorous (“Don’t try to second-wave me, Alissa,” mocks Darr). In such a context, The History of Sexuality is productive because it imbues the conversation with lived experience. Lived experience is not hegemonic.

“Think about all of the people in your life,” requests Madeleine (or actor Natalie Liconti, or an anonymous interview Liconti represents—here these lines are unclear and interwoven) before the second act. “Who do you think is the happiest?” Foucault didn’t think happiness existed; it is not truly thinkable. But sometimes Marie steps off her professorial podium and offers her students tequila, and sometimes we revel in a time, or a person, or ourselves, and we see that experience as happy.

Talia (Katharine King) drags the mattress off stage after describing her experience of sexual assault. Photo: Peter Ryaux-Larsen.

Talia (Katharine King) drags the mattress off stage after describing her experience of sexual assault. Photo: Peter Ryaux-Larsen.

Watching the interplay of stories in The History of Sexuality, the individual empathizes with some more than others. Recognizing the points of puncture elucidates something about one’s own sexuality. Ask, ‘What am I focusing on the most in this kaleidoscope?’ It could be Craig’s request to see more of his polyamorous, dominant partner whom he calls ‘Sir,’ or Talia’s account of her rape. The latter is particularly powerful. Overhead audio of the interviewee echoes the words she gave Talia, and Talia drags the mattress from the bed to off-stage (a nod to Emma Sulkowicz’s Mattress Performance at Columbia University?)

The play is an echo not only during Talia’s account or Marie’s libidinous recitations of Foucault’s name (“Foo-CAULT…Fooooo-cault”). It echoes us.

Stewart acknowledges that, “antithetical to its title, the play by no means offers a comprehensive history of sexuality.” If an echo, The History of Sexuality is a story anthology carrying the voices of a few real, queer lives, reverberating off the walls and hitting us so we understand.

Intimations for a “Pre-historic” Ballet: A Review Of Dana Michel’s Mercurial at FTA 2016

DanaDana Michel - Mercurial George

Mercurial first appears as a strewn machine (machinic)- with the outlay of its parts spread all across the stage and an intrepid voyager appearing (Dana Michel) very painstakingly and very slowly dragging across the floor to gather lost things and parts. Everything seems to be in a kind of slow motion as though a world had imploded right there before us, and with one last person “there”. “There” in first the phenomenological sense and then “there”, in the  post apocalyptic sense, to gather objects, things, and fragmented ideas ”that perhaps had once been”.. Continue reading

[About Town] Portraying Heterodoxy: Love U Lovecraft at Théatre de La Chapelle March 22- April 2

A gruesome stage with distressed walls. The inside of a manor of past great glory. A “great house”, as it were. This great house has something of a rootedness, something of an invasiveness especially after the incident. The house with the vines that will soon overrun it, the detritus state it will soon be in also being the detritus state its two inhabitants will live with it.

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About Town Nov. 5 – 20th

Scrivener & McGill Improv Present: A Live & Hearty Starlit Eventide of Muse-Hallowed Verse Enacted by the Spontaneous Thespian ClubScrivener Creative Review and McGill Improv are combining forces! Join them for a night of fun times, live poetry reading, and improvised scenes inspired by their poets’ work. Also, there’s food! It will be on Nov. 11th, 7:30pm at Le Cagibi. 

Cité sans frontières / Solidarity City / Ciudad Solidaria (Montréal) présente ★ Party de financement et danse reggae // Reggae dance party fundraiser ★ Vendredi le 6 novembre, Cafe l’Artere (7000 avenue du Parc - metro Parc), à partir de 22h (jusqu’à tard!) $5 à $10 ou payez comme vous pouvez.

Eastern Bloc Lab is hosting a DECONSTRUCTING THE SCIENTOLOGY E-METER (workshop). The workshop is given by Jamie Allen and Shintaro Miyazaki, in the context of BPLTC II. The technological presents itself as the forward image of our desires, and these projections often cause us to hide what should be resolute disappointment or dissatisfaction. Often things that don’t work simply must, as we’ve invested so much time, effort, emotion and money in them. (We would feel rather silly admitting how cumbersome and dysfunctional our new laptop is, after spending several thousand dollars on it… yet it still can’t connect to the printer!). This rather legitimate disappointment we moderns often hide from ourselves is part of what makes all technologies in some sense ‘apocryphal’: dubiously authentic, spuriously reliable, and suspectly ‘functional.’ All thinking is speculative, and technologies absorb this speculation: from truth telling, to bodily enhancement, to cognitive amplification. (Saturday November 7, 2015, 1pm – 4pm – Sunday November 8, 2015, 10am – 4pm. Price: $30) To reserve your place, please email lab@easternbloc.ca (10 people max!)

Librairie Drawn & Quarterly presents Carrie Brownstein launches Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl in conversation with Jessica Hopper on Nov. 16th, 7-9pm (doors close at 5:30pm), at the Ukrainian Federation Hall. Carrie Brownstein is the guitarist in pioneering rock band Sleater-Kinney and the creator/co-star of the wildly popular television show Portlandia. Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl (Riverhead Books) is Brownstein’s debut, a candid, funny, and deeply personal look at making a life—and finding yourself—in music. Brownstein will be in conversation with Jessica Hopper, senior editor at Pitchfork and author of The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic (Featherproof Books). Tickets on sale 10am, Friday, October 9th. Available at 211 Bernard Ouest or online https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/carrie-brownstein-launches-hunger-makes-me-a-modern-girl-tickets-18998718679 $15 or free with a purchase of Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl (in store only) stop by (211 Bernard Ouest) or call (514-279-2224) to reserve a ticket with a credit card.

 

“ANTIPODES”: A Review of Frédéric Tavernini’s Wolf Songs For Lambs at Théatre La Chapelle, April 14, 2015 (Théatre La Chapelle, April 14-18 2015)

©Brianna Lombardo

©Brianna Lombardo

Lewis Carroll‘s devotional  to the world of children (intertwined with his own personal controversies) might act as exemplary of the very two way street that sits along all apparent surfaces; Carroll’s oeuvre and life with “bizarre and esoteric words, grids, codes, and decodings”[1].

As in his type of work, the  glyphs, word/world constellations, and dances across the page and in the story might break the axes of otherwise accepted surfaces. These surfaces might have “certain points of one figure” referring “to the points of another figure”;  that below and beyond the surface of things, there might be another world and realm that corresponds to that above, “an entire galaxy of problems with their corresponding dice throws, stories, and places”[2]

Lewis Caroll

Lewis Caroll

Frédéric Tavernini presents this beyond or below the surface of things in his latest dance theatre piece, Wolf Songs For Lambs. As Tavernini says of his daughter’s influence on the piece, “My daughter made me want to become a child again, and like her to construct a whole imaginary child’s world seen by an adult” (DFDANSE).

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