B*TCH: The Origin of the Female Species
M1 Singapore Fringe Festival
Esplanade Recital Studio/ Jan 21
The power language has to shape and distort relationship dynamics is the clever, disturbing heart of this stand-out production written, directed and performed by Edith Podesta.
Start with the title - B*tch: The Origin Of The Female Species. Today one so quickly assumes the first word is a slur that the 'i' of individuality within it will be in this review replaced by a meaningless asterisk.
But strip away preconceived notions as Podesta does in text and performance, and "bitch" means "female dog". "Dog" is, as the human character played by Helmut Bakaitis says, a univeral metaphor. (As is its palindrome.) Consider how dogs run silently through mythology, often as agents between worlds. Sirius is the brightest star in the sky, Cerberus the hound that guards the gates of the dead, and canine-headed Anubis watches the judgement of Egyptian souls.
There is an obvious parallel to the voiceless, unheeded female in human mythology.
B*tch itself, commissioned by the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, has the potential to become a legendary work of theatre. It is a simple story with a complex heart. A dog (Podesta) observes a man (Bakaitis) whose wife is stolen away by dementia and who later suffers a stroke as well. As he is sucked into the trap of his brain, his dog follows and the stage is set to retell his life and some of the myths underpinning human civilisation, using feminist perspectives.
The actors are aided in this by literally stellar multimedia from Brian Gothong Tan and lighting from Adrian Tan. These transform the cosy domestic set up of sofa and side-tables at the Esplanade Recital Studio into a star-map that Podesta treads with Bakaitis. As Sirius does with the heavenly hunter of legend, dog and man move through the skies and into a realm where stories are made but not easily communicated.
Transmission of these stories can be corrupted by the lack of a common language between human and dog; between a man and a woman given gender-skewed upbringings and between a man suffering aphasia after a stroke and his speech therapist (Chanel Ariel Chan).
Podesta is perfectly canine when she is mute, tilting her head, nuzzling flowers, following Bakaitis' footsteps and pressing her face to the stage door until he re-enters. The illusion falters a little once she begins speaking in idiom - the rain that falls inside the house, meaning a shower, for example - but it is like getting used to Shakespeare. This is the vocabulary of storytelling, of myth-making and it illustrates the deep gap between the animal and the human - and later, between man and woman.
Bakaitis is familiar from his role as the Architect in the Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions movies, but here he displays a depth of emotion Hollywood denied him. Between him and Podesta exists a chemistry so strong that the viewer must rethink the word "platonic" as well. Their connection is both cerebral and physical, demonstrated in verbal jousting and tender brushing of Podesta's hair.
Yet the real show-stealer turns out to be Edie, an eight-year-old miniature Schnauzer who lightens the mood by doing tricks for doggie treats and lies trustingly under Bakaitis' affectionate hands. It is a treat for the audience too, to be brought back to earth after roaming the mythological heavens. To paraphrase Carl Sagan, who also wrote about impossible connections in space and time: for such small creatures as we, the vastness of the universe is made bearable only through love.
BOOK IT / B*TCH: THE ORIGIN OF THE FEMALE SPECIES
WHERE: Esplanade Recital Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive
WHEN: 8pm Jan 22 and Jan 23
ADMISSION: Limited seats. $22 from Sistic (go to sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555)