Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pent-up: a revenge dance

Even with a script, it's hard to tell what's going on in Pent-up: a revenge dance. What's clearer is how talented writer/performer Okwui Okpokwasili is, especially as she throws herself--literally--into this physically and mentally fragmented play. She goes from 0 to 60 in seconds: from standing still, images reflected across her back, to suddenly attacking the air, "dancing" to Nina Simone's "Liza Jane." What comes across most is the connection between mother (Okpokwasili) and daughter (Gloria Huwiler), which is perhaps appropriate for a show with "dance" in the title.

In any case, by remaining closed off, the duo (aided by director Peter Born) show how our actions create and close distances. For instance, one of the dances has the mother pulling the daughter along in a back-and-forth rhythm, speeding up as they call-and-repeat through a list of Igbo words. Elsewhere, the daughter refers to herself as the mother, and by the play's close, the two are bunched together, singing. There's a circular balance to all of this, too, between the repetition of a story about a "little freak girl" who can't stop touching her clit and the mother's fiery and redundant warnings to her village ("You see because people! You are shitting where you are drinking!").

It's as interesting as it is frustrating that these characters don't bother explaining themselves; they are made up of things--like a faith in lottery tickets, yes--but how do those things work on them? However, when Okpokwasili pull herself up and speaks the lines, she has command of the stage; likewise, when Huwiler begins to sing in her fine, unbroken voice, the idea of revenge seems a distant memory.

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