Jared Davidson is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Apt613. Follow his Twitter for more.
The opening night of undercurrents closed with Mouthpiece, a play from Toronto’s Quote Unquote Collective, and a play whose title only hints at the social commentary that bursts forth from this performance in new and important ways. It is the kind of play that provokes a reaction—in some moments, anxiety, in others, triumph.
The play is an examination of femininity in the modern context, replete with meta-theatrical excursions, such as the reciting of the slogans for products aimed at women. It is at once about one woman (that is, two sides of one woman, played by Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava) and about all women as they face the legacy passed down to them by their mothers. This struggle is wonderfully encapsulated within a story in which a grieving woman must write a eulogy for her recently deceased mother. In that task, she is forced to confront the multifaceted nature of her mother’s identity, and thereby her own.
The writing is energetic, never subsiding into simple dialogue, but continually reinventing itself, folding back on itself. The flexibility through which the narrative whisks the audience through scenes in the past, telephone messages, and internal dialogue is frankly astonishing. And it makes for what is clearly an extremely demanding play to perform.
Much of the play’s dialogue is spoken in perfect unison by Nostbakken and Sadava, and it is done so well that at times it produces an almost eerie effect. They perform the same expressions, same gestures, in perfect synchronicity, revealing the enormous amount of rehearsal that has gone into this play. The degree to which they are deliberate in their motions and tone draws attention to the excellent directing from Nostbakken, and the enormous talent of these two performers.
Mouthpiece also features a cappella vocal music, and it is performed absolutely beautifully. Most of the pieces sung are originals, and their harmonies are impressive and the lyrics are evocative. The mirroring and the singing show these two performers of the main character’s personality in conjunction, working together in agreement.
But what is most interesting about this piece is when the two characters diverge from each other, when the woman in the story seems to be of two minds. At several points these two-in-one characters get into verbal and physical clashes with one another, illustrating the main character’s self-defeating internal struggle. Much of the conflict centres around the microphone on the stage, which is representative of the moment when the woman will speak her mother’s eulogy. The struggle between the two performers is an embodiment of the main character’s desire to get the eulogy right. However, it becomes clear that getting it “right” can mean many things.
The play’s simple set (a bathtub and a microphone) gives the performers plenty of room to do what they do, which is to demonstrate an incredible range of feeling and of personality. The two traverse through comedy and parody, misery and rage. And they do it all so quickly and easily that it is impossible to look away. Both Nostbakken and Sadava give performances that would easily hold a one-person show’s audience, and with both of them operating on that level the intensity is very high.
Indeed, the intensity is so high that many may find it personally overwhelming. In the performance I saw, one person had to leave due to being too affected by the subject matter. At times, things get very dark, but it is a crucial darkness, one that confronts the way in which women are trapped by the culture we have created as a society.
Mouthpiece is not to be missed. Bring someone with whom you’d like to have a deep discussion because this play requires it. It is superbly written and performed and cuts to the heart of the confusions inherent in being. It is an exploration of the mind, and of what “being a woman” means in our current context. It is entertaining and provocative. It deserves attention.