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12 Minute Madness (theatre review) — Upintheair Theatre

May 23-27 The Cultch

By Hailey McCloskey

Written and directed by Raina Von Waldenberg, the interaction starts immediately. I walk in and am greeted in signature Raina style (I have taken her workshops before). She takes my hands in hers, makes sounds of delight, and places some intimate commentary into our moment of greeting, making a gesture she has used to greet me in particular in the past: hands together and fingers pointing down in a caricatured bunny rabbit shape.

I walk to my seat, feeling like I've been welcomed by a family member. Next to me is a woman made large by costuming with a sausage hanging out of her mouth like a cigar. She mumbles to audience members provocatively. Characters roam the theatre: on the stage, on the floor, in the audience, in the aisles, they scatter themselves sloppily about. Their choreography is invasive and messy: everybody is greeting the audience, boobs are hanging out, the quality of movement is noodle-like and lacking clear direction. There is a land acknowledgment and the host of the Cultch says this so that we are reminded of where we came from, and so that we can build a better world in the future.

This piece is about sexual abuse. It is a tricky subject. Facts are shared about child sex abuse and sex abuse in general: one out of 3 women are sexually abused. It's Raina's story: she unpacks the various voices in her head that arose when she exposed a repressed memory of her childhood abuse. It is theatre choreographed like a dance piece. The dance invites me to watch and track the thoughts that battle themselves out: the actors are frenzied, scattered in their movement patterns and moments of unison are few.

Within this chaotic stew, they are pointed in their proclamations and opinions about what happened, though they rarely agree in text or movement. The characters capitalize on my desire to silence the cacophony of voices inside my head, to settle on their interpretation of ‘the truth’. Judith (Delaney Bergstrom) is the therapist and is the ‘first responder’ after the recovered memory is revealed. She speaks about how memory works, and why repressed memory occurs at all. Shame (Sasha Schaepe) is defined by her tendency to pass out in the moment of speaking her truth. She tumbles softly to the ground right before the moment of revelation.

12 Minute Madness is for a world gone mad. It's for the child that has been told to put the voices in the corner. It says let me out. It says air them out: communicate with them, assess them, sit with them, comfort them. Keep them in line. Let these voices all have their hand at taking over, at being orators and at taking stage in aggressive or passive-aggressive ways.

Each characterization of the voices in Raina’s head grapple with making sense of this trauma. References to inbreeding are made, and feel like they are about the confused relationship between these voices. Patterns of dialogue are clarified. There is an over the top cartoon-like tone to the expression of these voices; it's one big thought fart. One speaks poetically and describes herself as disappearing into the wallpaper to see things from a wider perspective. She's seeing the wilderness, her voice calmly seeing the beauty in her predicament. This centres the chaos. Baby nazi (Anjela Magpantay) is in a continuous temper tantrum. She wants to fuck shit up, playing a violent blame game. This culminates in a group castration as punishment for always overpowering everybody else. The boss machismo pragmatist is the one who castrates: not a woman, and not the feminine principle. The baby nazi then looks for revenge.

It's all a power play. Voices are trying to claim ownership over dealing with the problem, to "heal poo poo ca ca is to deal with the poo poo caca". The woman with the cigar plays a man: the boss, the pragmatist. This one claims to be able to resolve the issue by naming it a "gentlemen’s conversation". This one tries keep everyone in check, takes over like a bully: she denies feelings, she castrates. Marlena is the oversexualized child: she's hyper and unfocused, and overtly sexually responsive. Through all of the confusion, the accents of these caricatures get lost when they get to emotional extremes.

There is no seduction here. At one point, the oversexed 8 year old uses the therapists hair to masturbate. It's the act that comes the closest to sexuality, though there is a shattered and tattered sexual nature being shown onstage at all times. The resolution to this act is Raina calmly walking over to her to take the wig away. I was put off by the ragged appearances of these women. The term "airing your dirty laundry" comes to mind as they are literally wearing dirty, wretched clothing. The lil nazi tells the therapist that she's unattractive and should get liposuction. Body shaming lives alongside unapologetic exposure of flesh. It's in your face: breasts fall out of shirts, nipples tease out the sides, red tape pasties cover nipples, half-asses peek out of ragged underwear. Everything is dirty. Everything is ragged. And I want to put them back together.  

I feel ironically relieved to find myself in this messiness. It’s off putting, yet grotesquely human: my head talks through trauma like this sometimes. I've been in this rhythmic wrestle before. Raina ushers us into this world with enough humility to let these trapped women out of their cages, and manages them in a permissive and organic fashion: spatial dynamics are scrambled then put back in order, frames are clarified then blasted open.

Raina is a mother. She comes in when she has to. She lets the voices hash it out, let's them have their say.  It's about rhythm and interruption. As I witness voices and movement patterns that appear disorganized, then find pause, then become chaotic once again, the questions arises….how do we interrupt our thinking patterns in constructive ways — without co-opting someone's voice, like the lil nazi does continuously? How do we tame that inner nazi who needs to point a finger? What do we do to get to the endpoint of surrender? Where we haven't forced ourselves into a corner of our own making of our own construction?

The reprieve in 12 mintutemadness is a culmination of chaos that gives way to a moment of togetherness and stillness that arrives only when all but shame are rendered as lifeless masses on the ground. [Here, i impulsively use the word rendered, and it makes me think of meat. or broth. or a simmering out of the fat of flesh. aesthetically, this is present throughout ] All become still. Silent. At one. In harmony. For the first time in the whole play. And I only realize this as it occurs. There are no clear answers, yet the spaciousness allows for the soft shame girl to speak up. This moment is welcomed after her repeated attempts to use her backbone, stand up straight and speak. But her spine gives way to a feathery fall every time. We barely hear her bones as she hits the floor. Shame has the last word, and then is comforted by mama bear (Raina).

Sad Bones closes the play. I'm invited into soft imagery, gentle poetry. Lines like "memory makes farting sound when you bother it" are both hilarious and poignant. Mostly, the closing poem draws our attention to the wild nature of memory: "memory is a strange animal", and "memory is a graffiti artist" remind us that this play is about how we relate with history. I witnessed myself weave my own patterns of thought through the busy tapestry of spatial dynamics that spat themselves out on stage. I rest peacefully with the passing insanity that all of us go through in 'deal with it to heal it' trauma. To be sure, sexual abuse is its own beast.

(Image by Chris Randle.)

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