Performance Review: Sharp social commentary trapped in an overambitious narrative


In a high-octane 90-minute exhibition of various darkly comedic portraits of modern femininity and sexuality, playwright Amy Gijsbers van Wijk gives us philosophy, Greek mythology, strobes, snakes, camgirls, sign-language, shotgunning beers, karaoke, palmistry, dance and a lot of glitter.

‘feminine octagon [or Aristotle can eat me]’ tackles themes of feminism, patriarchy, capitalism and the ways women, femme and female-identifying people experience them.

With a shapeshifting cast of troubled characters, the play is fast-paced, funny, loud and savage. It’s also unsettling: Van Wijk blatantly acknowledges that at the root of traditional femininity is the threat of harm and seeks to subvert and explore it.

Jessica O’Hara-Baker directs this world premiere run, produced by HIT Copenhagen. The final show will be at Christiania’s Bøssehuset on September 17.

Spring break meets Ancient Greece
The narrative follows American college students Allure, Candy, Orpheus and Flowers as they converge on a potluck dinner. Individually they seek validation, love, comfort and power … but collectively they’re just looking for the afterparty.

Along the way, best friends Allure (Michelle Bowman Bak) and Candy (Seren Oroszvary) – roomies and wannabe viral vloggers – are transformed into goddesses representing the chaos and sensuality of feminine power.

Meanwhile, Orpheus (Viktor Hugo) stumbles into a meeting with camgirl, Eurydice_19969, who he begs for wisdom. “I can give you fuck wisdom,” she replies from a video projection on the wall. “It’s just as applicable to real life as real wisdom.”

Sharp commentary… but heavy-handed metaphor
Camera technology and the internet recur in the play as vehicles of validation mimicking the male gaze. It’s an appropriate if overt metaphor – one which blends into the production’s general tapestry of overt metaphors.

Yet the webcam projection scenes are creative, engaging theatre. Oroszvary is convincingly tragi-comic with spider lashes and a sultry yet bored voice.

Her authority on camera points to female dominance, while her deft depiction of performative virginity vs actual vulnerability raises troubling questions about real female agency.

Dirt, a quarry-dweller in torn fishnets, slicked back hair and a college-jock leather jacket, is played by Tjarli Simone Majumdar Selvig, who delivers just the right measure of arrogant swagger to allude to frat culture without overcooking it.

But a dance scene between Dirt and Allure dents the armour of performance with an underwhelming execution.

For a play that is all-singing, all-dancing and everything in between, it’s an understandable missed detail – but it’s a shame that almost all the play’s earnest moments are outperformed by tongue-in-cheek scenes.

Refreshing nod to underrepresented sexual identities
Flowers, a meek, asexual tarot-card enthusiast who recalls the myth of the Oracle of Delphi, is played by Liff Monica Thomsen.

Thomsen’s performance is strongest when she’s interacting with her dream-vision of the author Mary Shelley, sensitively played by Gertrud Magnusson.

The two speculate on the nature of love and how to express intimacy without sexual contact. It’s a touching rumination on the physical language of human closeness – accentuated by Magnusson’s use of sign-language.

Not only is it refreshing to see deaf representation in mainstream performance art, it enriches the question at the crux of the play of how we connect and communicate.

Furthermore, the age difference between the two women encourages reflection on what society deems ‘acceptable’ in non-binary relationships – especially considering their bond is one of the most authentic in the production.

In fact, despite the outlandishness, all the characters are very likeable … which helps the audience to keep a hold on van Wijk’s slippery plot. Of course, there’s an element of that to be expected in a play that openly challenges Aristotle’s beginning-middle-end narrative theory.

A barrage of information
This is a play that gives a lot and so can’t help but overreach itself. It’s a barrage of references, light, music, dialogue and various performance formats.

Though the overall message is muddy, the whole is made up of individual moments that shine: Eurydice_19969 reciting her weekly grocery spend and childhood memories in camgirl getup; when Mary Shelley shares her ‘essence’ with Flower as a form of contactless intimacy; Orpheus’ Disneyesque karaoke performance; Candy’s furious, self-hating diatribe in front of the mirror.

‘feminine octagon [or Aristotle can eat me]’ is well performed, with great enthusiasm and infective energy, while the momentum leaves little time to dwell on imperfections.

The ideas it conjures are complex and multifaceted – admirable conquests … but the thrown together nature of the narrative dilutes some otherwise very powerful reflections on the experience of femininity.

Seren Oroszvary