"an experimental exploration of identity and the queering of femininity... from a master of words and movement"
Being Dead (Don Quixote) | Review
Most people are familiar with Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th century literary classic Don Quixote, though few know how to pronounce it. Genderqueer performer and playwright, Kerith Manderson-Galvin is no exception. While introducing the inspiration for Being Dead, Kerith laughs as they phonetically pronounce it, “Don Quick-Sot-Ey”.
For those who know neither the correct pronunciation nor the text itself, Don Quixote (“Don Key-Hoh-Tey”) is a two-part novel following the adventures of a Spanish noble-cum-knight who loses his mind after reading too many romance books. He names himself ‘Don Quixote de la Mancha’ and with his squire, Sancho Panza, by his side, seeks to revive chivalry and serve his nation. Don Quixote refuses to see the world for what it is, and instead imagines that he is living a knightly story. He chases the perfect woman, Dulcinea del Toboso, though is never to find her, because of course she does not exist. Kerith understands Don Quixote as a perplexingly queer hero: a man who dares to leave his “embattled self to become closest to his desires”.
However, Being Dead is not a simple re-telling of the famous tale. Instead, it is an experimental exploration of identity and the queering of femininity. Blending elements of low and high brow culture, Kerith not only meditates on the archaic Spanish muse, but also on pop-culture icons like Barbie, to explore the curious becoming of self.
The University of Adelaide’s Little Theatre is transformed into a bubble-gum Femme fantasy world. Dusty pastel pink drapes frame the stage, almost like an abandoned pageant show set. The floor is carpeted in the same shade, and the handful of props shine like fuchsia-sequined jewels. The set – like the play – is kitsch, open, playful, intimate, and very serious.
Each moment of Being Dead is visually striking, and Kerith knows it. They announce “here is a beautiful image”, before contorting their body into an elegantly erotic pose, as if to freeze the action and frame the scene. We are most memorably captivated through sight and sound when Kerith performs a hypnotic movement sequence in a two-tiered party dress. Throughout the play, Kerith connects with each member of the audience by manoeuvring through the seating, asking questions like “can I sit here?” or “do you mind if I play some music?”. The dreamy soundscape hangs like a cloud over captivating monologues, and we watch as Kerith verbalises the inner workings of their mind. Overly apologetic and highly self-aware, Kerith presents a character who “lingers on the bad qualities of femininity”. Kerith says: “I like femininity as a disorder. I like the way femininity can drift atop the surfaces of things, and pull you in, or take you over completely.”
Being Dead is a bit like Kerith’s femininity. It drifts atop various forms and shapes, some of which you make sense of, and others you don’t. It is best to let Kerith pull you in and take you over completely in this exceptional piece of Australian contemporary theatre, performed by a master of words and movement.