Deconstructivist, post-structuralist, feminist, transgressive, bizarre, confused/confusing, non-linear, provocative, brave, raw
Being Dead (Don Quixote) | Review
Even though it’s only the first weekend, I’m predicting that this is likely to be one of the most divisive shows of the season. Deconstructivist, post-structuralist, feminist, transgressive, bizarre, confused/confusing, non-linear, provocative, brave, raw: these are the words that come to mind to describe this fascinating work by Melbourne artist Kerith Manderson-Galvin. My first challenge is describing just what went on during this hour that Manderson-Galvin graced the PICA stage, and I will fail miserably if I try to carve out some kind of timeline, narrative, or progression of moments. There’s just too much there to cover in one review, and to be quite honest, I’m sure there’s too much there to cover in a single show, let alone a single viewing of said show.
Manderson-Galvin has taken inspiration from Kathy Acker‘s version of Don Quixote, rather than from Cervantes, and from there, she cut-and-pastes bits from all corners of femininity and feminism, including material from Amanda Bynes’s Twitter feed. Manderson-Galvin pulls the rug out from us whenever she can, defying theatrical convention where possible, denying our expectations of comfortable consumerism, giving us only sketches when we are used to traditional portraits. Do not go into this looking for emotional theatre, though there are certainly subjects that can and will trigger an emotional response; this is intellectual theatre, and its impact is a slow smoulder, rather than a short, sharp, shock.
It feels as though we’ve been let inside Manderson-Galvin’s bedroom or dressing room, her private sanctuary where she acts out her fantasies, explores facets of herself as a young Australian female artist, and does her take on the perils and thrills of being such a creature. She grants herself freedom of expression, liberates herself from self-censorship, and nervously reveals her vulnerability. She puts on wigs, costumes, prances, pulls out a whip, sings lonely sad songs, uses voices; she’s glamorous and tatty, disheveled and graceful, scared and scary. The piece itself is both scattered and polished, yet somehow ultimately cohesive, though in a rather indescribable way.
Being Dead was a destabilising experience for the audience, and it took a while for patrons to turn to each other and begin murmuring their reactions. We needed a moment to process and come back to reality, whether we enjoyed being in Manderson-Galvin’s world or not. And the processing continues, two days later. We (I and other people who have also seen the show) are still questioning whether or not this was “good theatre,” whether it has “a point,” whether it “adds anything new to the discussion.” To my mind, there is no doubt that the answer to all three of those questions is a resounding YES.