I can’t remember, before this show, the last time I saw an adult person unhesitatingly put their whole big toe in their mouth and suck on it with a sense of blissful satisfaction. You can marvel at the flexibility of such a feat even as you cavil at the notion of exactly how clean, now, was that toe before it went in to that mouth. This combination of awe and uncomfortable personal fastidiousness is what Sandrine Lafond, the performer and creator of Little Lady, is happy to promote. She wants to hold you in a spell of fascination as she pricks away at your comfort levels, never allowing you to lapse into a passive, carefree enjoyment of her performance. Perhaps it’s her butoh training at work, or perhaps she’s artfully channelling a sense of anger stemming from her experience as a female performer. Either way she has devised in this one woman piece a highly individual performance of peculiar distinction.
We first meet the Little Lady of the title, as lights come up on stage, in a kneeling position, head down, derriere aloft, face averted, apparently sleeping comfortably. After some don’t-try-this-at-home wakeful stretching exercises, she turns to us revealing an alarmingly wide-open pair of eyes behind buffoonish spectacles and a broad, guileless smile. But she is wearing some sort of head covering, has a stuffed, protruding stomach, and favors a cropped fur jacket that gives her a dowager’s hump. She appears a strange hybrid of Little Edie from the Maysles brothers’ Grey Gardens, and a kinkajou. Shortly she falls into the aforementioned luxurious morning toe suck. Is she human at all? The question seems even more apropos when she flourishes a two foot walking stick and stiffly, awkwardly rises to a posture that might be called a stand, staggering uncertainly on the balls of her feet, legs bent outward in spastic totter, emitting a sort of babyish gurgling laughter. Who she is and where she is are a mystery. There’s an animalistic unpredictability to her movements and a sort of leering carnal sensuality in her investigations; nostrils sniffing, tongue extended, she appears to appraise the male audience members in the front row. Her movements and gestures recognize no bodily decorum as she stirs up an air of possible social affront. In short, despite the open faced smile and stare, she’s a bit dangerous.
Lafond’s Little Lady is a creature of routine however, and we watch as she follows a pattern of behavior revolving around her rest, her meals, her television programs, and her bodily self enjoyment. Unseen by the audience, the television shows serve as clues to the passages in her life. Programs devoted to knitting, boxing, and warfare are relayed through the actresses enthusiastic and alarmed reactions. Physically her body undergoes a series of transformations, from the crooked, lurching movements of the opening sequence, through a grotesquely sexualized persona, to a more naturally moving, unencumbered personality. En route she seems to lose much of her animal self-satisfaction and confidence. Less bizarre and recognizably human by the conclusion, she is also clouded with uncertainty, newly timid. The final act is played out in a video clip showing the freshly formed Little Lady alone and lost in a desert landscape, buffeted by winds, scorched by the sun, pricked by thorns. Despite her predicament, and aided by a genteel parasol, she perseveres, eventually stumbling upon …
There’s a visual freshness in the presentation of all of this, both skillful and compelling. Lafond seems to be comically and ruefully evaluating her evolution as a performer, and as a woman. The formally confrontational manner in which she relates the tale partly gets in the way of making you care what becomes of her character, but she isn’t – thank goodness – asking for our sympathy here, merely our attention. Which she is quite adept at capturing, and manipulating. For all the apparent clowning there’s an evident performative maturity and poise at work. She’ll take you there alright, it’s just that, much like herself, you may end in mere bewilderment at where exactly you find yourself. Deferential nods are owed to director John Turner for following her all the way, videographer Paolo Santos for the atmospheric – dare one suggest Lynchian? – film footage, and make-up and costume artists, Elisabeth Lehoux and Nelly Rogerson, who contribute effectively in elaborating such a bizarre tale. Yves Frulla‘s musical accompaniment feels the most familiar part of the exercise and helps to frame the performance in a tradition of clowning which Lafond, happily and admirably, disposes of. Though not precisely a joyride, there’s enough surprises and whoop-de-dooh to make it memorable. It’s a trip alright, oh yeah.
~~~Little Lady Directed by: John Turner Mar 01, 11:00PM Mar 03, 5:00PM Mar 04, 12:30PM $15.00 The Red Room