Wherever there’s a topic hot out of the oven, some corporate commander will inevitably swoop down and bake it into a product. Sex is no exception to this. Mainstream media make it seem so easily achievable; you just take your clothes off and do the deed, right? Well, how often are you presented with a piece that shifts away from what sex should be, and instead delves into what it actually is, in all its intricate glory? With the combined efforts of Little Black Afro Theatre and Epigraph Collective, playwright Curtis te Brinke offers a provocative answer, so to speak, with his play, Strangeness and Breath.
In exploration of truth and taboos, te Brinke and EC co-founder Luke Pieroni portray two unnamed men that engage in a tryst. Te Brinke’s character is a promiscuous egotist masking despair, who perceives intercourse and identity as clear-cut constructs. His partner, on the other hand, tries to make an emotional connection with him, all the while struggling to accept his individuality and puzzle together his own desires.
The performance used a myriad of drama and design techniques to orally and visually depict the stages leading to and after sex, in a nonlinear fashion. One of them was evident in the dialogue; conversations between te Brinke and Pieroni embodied a coherent narrative, while narrations were used to describe thoughts and reactions to both their previous sexual experiences that they shared with one another, and their own night together. The two interchanged styles were applied appropriately and succeeded in strengthening audience immersion; the conversational segments felt like invitations to speaking circles, allowing for comfortable discussions about sexuality, while the storytelling bits situated us in the events as they were unfolding. Narrating created a feeling of involvement in someone else’s interactions beyond just being able to visualize what might have happened, therefore rendering the episodes all the more relatable and believable.
But it didn’t just stop at listening to lines being spoken and characters recalling their pasts. Te Brinke’s script was filled with hyperboles, metaphors and onomatopoeias to literally probe our own sensations towards the actions and emotions on stage. As well, it addressed questions surrounding experiences that shape people’s perceptions and standards, what constitutes dating, obstacles in normalizing one’s own identity, and what comes next. It prompted us to reflect on our own ideals versus reality, what our first time was like or what we anticipate from it. We were asked to consider the purposes and meanings of life associated with sex.
As for the actual line delivery, these men weren’t playing the roles – they were their characters. Their speech was very representational of how young adults nowadays would bluntly converse. Their voices were projected clearly enough to be heard, and were used advantageously to produce an array of sounds that would accurately pinpoint feelings towards the act itself and outside interactions: seduction, passion, awkwardness, frustration, nervousness -- and that’s just naming a few.
Unpredictability was paramount in this show. Scene transitions occurred by switching between the conversation and flashbacks, and contact improvisation with a blanket kept the action from turning stale. From tug-o-war, to slow caressing, to powerful wall slams, the suspense was kept high as the pace was constantly changing. Audio playbacks of the actors’ voices were used at times, along with a video of them talking on the projection screen, to show how they met and what led to their one-night stand. I found it especially interesting when they would sit and watch themselves on screen, as it symbolizes a retrospective moment that helps one realize how differently they may understand something when they are able to remember it vividly.
The show took place at Videofag, a performance lab at a storefront cinema. This was an excellent choice, as the confined space created an intimate atmosphere for both the actors and the audience. It also made using the environment for choreography and sound effects quick and feasible.
Stroboscopic lighting was a unique feature in this play. The flashing colors placed intensity in the foreground, while images were displayed in the background during narrations. While the images gave scenes artistic and metaphorical value, they were a little distracting. I felt that the actors’ movements and the strobe effects were enough for visual appeal.
This is a play that is not watched, but experienced. Audience members will find themselves in these moments, just as these characters do in each other.
Strangeness and Breath is playing at Videofag, located on 187 Augusta Avenue, until July 5. Tickets are $12; they are available at the door, or can be reserved here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1uymzyXsrmvtFaMzvKcNGSumKdGUyRTD1tJhyzv2_frg/viewform. You can also support the show by donating here: http://www.gofundme.com/w3ue8r4c. Ten per cent of the box office will go towards Youth Line, an organization that provides support for youth of various sexual orientations.