Monday, May 24, 2010
The Folding Wife
The Folding Wife is a "biographical fiction" written by Paschal Daantos Berry in collaboration with the performer Valerie Berry, the writer's sister. This project began in 2006 and along with the Anino Shadowplay Collective and the Director Deborah Pollard it has been nurtured through time and onto a tour around Australia, Sydney being the last stop before a Melbourne date.
The piece tells the story of three generations of Filipino women: Clara, Dolores and Grace. It is the youngest Grace that tells the story. In a framing conceit of titled chapters in a book we travel back to the time of Clara and her life in the Philippines in the reign of Imelda Marcos with all of its promises and troubles. Of Dolores and her marriage to an Australian sheep farmer and her times assimilating to the strange customs of an Australian country life. And finally of Grace and her telling of blending into contemporary cultural expectations, unraveling into her own identity.
With wicker baskets full of props and costumes and assisted by Datu Arellano and Teta Tulay, Valerie Berry transforms physically into the shapes and images of all three women. A screen serves as a focus for projected images generated by computer and overhead projector using simple shadowplay techniques as a background for the different chapters and events. It is charmingly low key and basic in its creativity.
The thrust of the story comes from a poetically rendered narrative by Mr Berry spoken by Ms Berry. It is a construct of memories and poetry. It has an artificial literacy about it, which, while beautiful, gives the impact of the material an aesthetic distancing and presentational feel. The shuffling of the chapters out of their linear order is a familiar ploy in work of this kind and does not really gain much by it, as the story is very familiar, and apart from some startling political vocabulary and imagery is not necessarily continuously arresting.
As the text is spoken as a learnt "artificiality" it is, oddly, not very personalized and so keeps one at arms length. My audience identification was pushed to an objective observation. In contrast the recent simpler but direct storytelling witnessed at Belvoir Theatre in a program workshopped and directed by William Yang: STORIES EAST and WEST,was devastatingly penetrating because of the rawness of the speakers using verbatim revelations that both had charm and pain through direct ownership of the language used. Here Ms Berry and Ms Pollard through their craft choices keep us attentive, occasionally charmed but never involved. Its low key and tour sensitive design captured a "folksy" sensibility and the result was, for me, one of familiar admiration and that the project was a worthy effort if not an original illumination into the world of these three women of other heritages.