Friday, 9 October 2015

Bronx Gothic, 8 Oct 2015, Melbourne Festival ****1/2

Written & performed by Okwui Okpokwasili
Produced by Melbourne Festival, Arts House & Performance Space 122
Arts House, 8 to 12 October 2015
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ****1/2
Full review also published in Herald Sun online on Fri 9 Oct, 2015 and on Sun 11 Oct in print. KH
 Okwui Okpokwasili; pic by Sarah Walker

Okwui Okpokwasili’s startling, solo performance in Bronx Gothic is visceral and punishing for both performer and audience. 

For the first, gob-smacking twenty minutes, her lean, brown, loose-limbed and muscular body convulses and vibrates in incessant, sweat-drenched, almost paralytic movement.

The introduction of a dissonant, percussive soundscape provides no relief, instead heightening the sense of chaos, danger and rage.

When the pounding sound and pulsating movement suddenly stop, Okpokwasili continues to mesmerise the audience with her grim tale about the sexual awakening of two 11-year old girls in the Bronx many years ago.

However, there is still no respite as Okpokwasili weaves her bleak, tormented yarn with vivid, provocative, sexual imagery and emotive, lyrical language.

Dreams collide with reality, childhood rear-ends adulthood, immature sexuality chases down love and eats out its heart.

Her throbbing body captures the girls’ burgeoning sexuality and the pain of growing while evoking a palpable sense of the threatening environment in which these little girls survive but cannot thrive.

Okpokwasili embodies these two girls vocally and physically, using a deep growling tone to conjure the frighteningly precocious, rebellious, sexually active girl and a sweet, piping voice as the immature, inquisitive child.

Intermittently, Okpokwasili interrupts her story with short, sweetly sung, unaccompanied songs with sadly poetic lyrics that comment like a Greek chorus on the pain and suffering.

As the adult narrator, she drags memories from her childhood that are triggered by her reading of carefully preserved notes that were passed between the two girls.

The girls dream about violent, bloody and hellish landscapes filled with boiling, red seas, whereas their inconsequential, daily lives recall sneaky cigarettes at the local bodega, stolen kisses, early sexual experiences and jealous boyfriends.

With director, Peter Born, Okpokwasili lovingly creates a tortured but beautifully wrought, emotional and physical landscape that acts as a metaphor for pubescence and the intimate life of children on the verge of discovery.

Witnessing Okpokwasili’s torturous physicality and intense storytelling is both alarming and inspiring.

By Kate Herbert

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