Cut Up opened with a single pin-point light illuminating, and seemingly trapping, the head and bust of performer Monica Sirignano, who sat, utterly still, in a pristine white wedding dress, posing for her portrait and seemingly attempting to talk without moving a single muscle on her face. By contrast, Monster opened with performer Alice Starr McFarland dancing in a fiery red dress and blonde Marilyn Monroe wig, lip-synching "I just wanna be loved by you." Stillness vs. movement; white vs. red; virginity vs. sex-appeal. And yet, in spite of these polar oppositions, the two pieces converge sharply on a common theme, as the women try to find their own voice and language, not in an image projected (or captured) by men, but within themselves.
Cut Up's Sirignano delivered a monologue about the attempt to find a woman's language that will set her free. The words that are available to her are not her own, so she juxtaposes them in unexpected ways to deprive them of their meaning. Disrupting traditional narrative and rhythm, the character attempts to resist the pull of a language that the she views as irretrievably male: "I speak in a language where I am nothing," she intones. "I am the death of language." But if this male language was perhaps successfully destroyed, nothing satisfying arose to replace it, leaving a frustrating void. This was more than overcome, however, by the haunting stage picture created through the lighting design (by Ryan Schmidt) and Sirignano's bodily presence. By the end, the slightest movements of the head, emerging from the stillness, effectively conveyed both her stifling imprisonment in the world of language and the possibility for escape.
In Monster, the sexy posing seems initially to convey freedom (after all, it implies sexual liberation, the freedom to put on a wig and be who you want to be, even if who you are is someone else) but proves to be its own imprisonment, as the woman's failure to be Marilyn overwhelms her ("You're no Marilyn!" a heckler yells), and the facade is no longer enough. Recovering from a suicide attempt, she is asked to sing. "You really want to hear me sing?" she responds, disbelieving. As she does so, haltingly, vulnerably, not quite on key but persevering, she removes the blond wig and a healing takes place - no longer lip-synching the perfect woman, she is singing as herself. The voice that emerges may be imperfect, but it is real, and it is her own.
The final show, the darkly comic (and hyper-kinetic) America's
Royal Miss, also engages with questions of image and celebrity,
as it satirically imagines what would have happened to baby-pageant
queen JonBenet Ramsey had she lived to her 17th birthday. Using
clown and vaudeville techniques, distorted voice-overs (sound
design was by Evan Kreeger) and an incredibly malleable
bodily presence, Rachel Solomon played JonBenet and her parents
in a kaleidoscopic performance that was as funny as it was disturbing.
The juxtaposition of the three performances, all quite different
in method and style, displayed the power and potential of the
woman's solo voice.
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Copyright 2000 Sarah Stevenson