The stage is decorated with only a long table lined with complex lit-up buttons of video and musical equipment, and above that table is a circular projection of either home videos of the young protagonist or live streaming of them as they lip synch and groove or tell a story; otherwise there is plenty of space for jumping and writhing in the centre.
In today’s world, you understand that a pronoun can change from “him” to “her”’ as easily as it can sit in the middle with “they”, and this is the foundation for MDLSX: a punk theatre monologue of one person’s story of being born a girl and reborn, as a teenager, a boy.
The words are stunning, lifted from Jeffrey Eugenides’ 2002 Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel Middlesex. On stage we read the English subtitles of the spoken Italian “I’d like to have a word for the ‘happiness’ that attends disaster”; in the novel we read “I’d like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, ‘the happiness that attends disaster’.”
It’s this mesh of Eugenides’ text and autobiography, along with a recording of theorists confronting the term “Queer”, that begs the question of “what is real?”, and that interrogation conceptualises so cleverly the blend of the male/ female body so that the written word and the physical body become, both, boundary-less.
Co-founders of the Italian theatre company Motus, Daniela Nicolò and Enrico Casagrande, directed this experimental production following on from an aesthetics they honed for 10 years of collaboration with the sole star of the show, DJ, VJ, dancer and confessor Silvia Calderoni.
Calderoni’s movements brilliantly portray the erotic complexity presented by the mysterious transgendered body. She throws words like “hermaphrodite” around the room as naturally as she undresses in front of the audience; she screams “monster” as traumatically as she dissects her groin with a laser beam of light; she hides her shame by facing away from the audience for most of the show as her face is projected on the wall above the back of her body.
Discomfort and curiosity fuel the audience, so why the mild applause at the end? I think the confronting work, exploding in a powerful soundtrack of brash bands like The Dresden Dolls, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Cramps and Smashing Pumpkins, and parading its protagonist in a perpetual semi-nude state of interpretive dance that’s jerky and coarse, leaves people wondering what exactly it is they just saw.
Is it art or post-art? Is it female or male? It’s intelligent, that’s for sure, and it’s rousing. But mostly it’s challenging, which is exactly what we need from art in a social-political context – something we can take home with us and consider long after they have left the stage.
MDLSX is showing at the AC Arts Main Theatre until March 13.