Hot Kitchen/SECOND SHIFT, by Raw Matter and presented by Filament Incubator, teases out the absurdities built into the exploitation of women through domestic labour with a satirical and aesthetic relish I can call nothing less than vital.
We’re hosted by Lysol (Alanna Dunlop), Maybelline (Veronika Brylinska), and Betty Crocker (Nicole De Angelis), three housewives who subscribe to homemaking as a wageless profession pursued out of family love. We delve into their domestic lives and survey the history of housewifery through a surreal variety show of sorts. The show pits the socioeconomic inequalities of being a woman against the housewives’ view that that’s baloney, and that their occupation actually depends on selfless love and “priceless” work. The devil’s advocate of this face-off, a woman in red named M/Em (Daniela Pagliarello), tries with a fiery grace to entice the wives toward her independent and economically-literate picture of womanhood.
Standout scenes include a ritualistic dinner, evocative of Cindy Sherman’s photos of fashion victims and preference for the grotesque, where we see the wives unspooling vapid conceptions of beauty by stuffing their mouths with pages of Vogue. The #ThrowThatBaby game show, equally intrepid, harnesses audience interaction to make a statement on overpopulation that activates some of our basest desires.
The set and costume design elevate 1950s gaudiness to a horror subgenre that transfixes us with both its formal beauty and unnerving excess. The Felix Gonzalez-Torres-like sheets in a corner piled six feet high are a domestic monstrosity, but they’re a richly textured one. The oven may feel like it’s looking back at you, but it’s a delicious geometric feast. Everything from the wives’ futuristically contoured makeup, to the flowers in M/Em’s AstroTurf garden is rendered in soft shades of pink too pervasive to not seem a little unsettling.
The choreography, often reminiscent of old Hollywood musicals, uses nostalgia to amp up the housewives’ veneer of fake smiles and excitement ever on the edge of cracking. Dunlop, most notably, transitions from a porcelain doll pose, to a Richard Nixon impression, to a contagiously enthused game-show host with stoic charm and efficiency.
Rebecca Hooton, who plays Powered By, approaches the role of the mind in which the play takes place with the quiet puttering one might expect from a brain at work. At one point, her character takes a bathroom break that gifts us a shared moment of recognition where play and reality collide into involuntary fits of laughter.
It’s by chiseling away at the innateness of gender roles through peripheral angles that Hot Kitchen/SECOND SHIFT manages to breathe life into familiar criticisms.
Hot Kitchen/SECOND SHIFT runs until Oct. 1 at Kensington Hall. For more information, visit http://hotkitchen.bpt.me/