What would happen if feminist theory rubbed up against Greek myth? That’s the imaginatively staged premise InBocca Performance director Caroline Stine has conjured up in My Twisted Face.
This thought-provoking, mostly theatrical, shortish (about 45 minutes) work features a cast of four young women (Ashley Morton, Katelyn Altieri, Kellyn Dolezal and Carrington Rowe). They take on the task of addressing the feminist notion of “rape culture” vis-a-vis the Greek myth of the beautiful Cassandra, cursed by Apollo after refusing his advances. Her punishment was that her gift of prophecy was negated — no one would believe her warnings. (Some versions say her tongue was tied in a knot, perhaps inspiring the title’s reference to a “twisted face”?) The connection is obviously not that Cassandra was raped (though she was certainly abused in a sexual context) but, that in today’s culture, except in the case of rape, most crime victims at least have the benefit of the doubt. They are believed.
After we hear Cassandra tell her sad story, the simply attired, barefoot women, often providing commentary in unison like a Greek chorus, sometimes talking in turn, take us through a solemn tutorial of rape statistics. More commentary on gender and sexuality follows, with intermittent solo appearances of characters telling their individual stories alongside musical interludes of recorded, vaguely ancient music. Short, supporting dance segments are also mostly done in unison — and are physical, uncomplicated and rhythmic.
A highlight is a standout speaking/movement solo by Rowe, based on Margaret Atwood’s poem “Helen of Troy Does Countertop Dancing,” which amusingly imagines Helen as a stripper who refuses to be ashamed. She provides “value.” She confides “smiling tires me out the most.” She sneers, “Think I’m not a goddess,” as a come-on, peeling off black gloves finger by finger. “Try me.” I’m not 100 percent sure of the subject connection in this one, but it was so good I didn’t even care.
In another vignette, three of the actors circle one another, emphasizing the dehumanizing humiliation a rape victim experiences as she is processed through the system. “Leave nothing out,” they intone repeatedly, while talking about gathering forensic evidence: fingernail scrapings, vaginal swab. It’s pointed out that in many cases a $2,000 rape kit is actually billed to the woman. As this segment ends, the four line up and, in canon, vocalize a series of gasps, alternately covering their mouth and eyes.
“Shit people to say to victims,” is another point of examination. “Were you wearing jeans? You can’t be raped if you are wearing pants. Were you drunk? Did you have sex before? Did you like it?”
At one point, the ladies line up and mime primping and putting on makeup in front of a mirror to a lilting recorded song with candy-coated lyrics: “There’s nothing more to say … you’re his girl, and he’s your fella.” Eventually, they become aware of the underlying cultural message, that’s it’s OK to let a man have his way with them. In horror, they rub their faces clean.
Kathy Valin is a freelance writer and dance enthusiast who covers dance for several publications, including CityBeat.
Read the official 32-page FRINGE FESTIVAL GUIDE here and find the full performance lineuphere.