Wednesday, December 14

Taboos Brought to Life on La MaMa Stage

Raïna von Waldenburg (photos by Alexander Berg)
In a small theater in East Village, the smell of french toast slowly drifts into the audience. A lone woman stands on the stage, soaking more pieces of bread in egg-milk mixture as the griddle hisses in the corner and clips of radio news echo in the air. The setting is the legendary La MaMa Experimental Theater, and the woman on stage is Raïna von Waldenburg, the writer and performer of Oysters, Orgasms and Obituaries. Von Waldenburg’s one-woman tour de force takes its audience on an unpredictable ride into the core of taboos as it touches upon pedophilia, mother-child murders and childbirth.

The play is a consciously physical one from the very first moment on, as von Waldenburg nonchalantly thanks the audience for coming and transforms into the characters in what almost feels like a lecture - fittingly, von Waldenburg teaches drama at the New York University. As a German grandmother, she comes to terms with her husband’s pedophilia as she casually offers the audience sausage. She draws a peculiar yet believable connection between Andrea Yates, who infamously drowned her five children in Texas in 2001, and another character, an anger-management coach for mothers. Von Waldenburg turns the soaking of the french toast into a powerful metaphor of drowning the children, and suddenly the smell lingering in the air is more nauseating than sweet.

In the darkest back seat of the audience, far from the toast, sits director Zishan Ugurlu. Raïna von Waldenburg has been Ugurlu’s main actress for seven years, and the two created Orgasms, Oysters and Obituaries as a collaborative artistic project. “The idea stemmed from Raïna - she wrote the play, and together we finalised the shape of it,” Ugurlu, who is also an associate theater professor at Lang, says. “We knew we were creating something bigger than us.” Presenting taboos in an unconventional, almost light-hearted way was a challenge, and Ugurlu says that making the audience wonder if it’s appropriate to laugh was something they were aiming for. For Ugurlu, the architecture of the creative room is important, and imagining the space the writer creates is a crucial part of her interpretation. When designing the set, Ugurlu kept the physicality of the play in mind and only picked items which could be used on stage every night. “The most thing important thing about the play is being in the present moment,” she says. “Whatever happens in the room will be in the play.”

One of the most challenging aspects of the production - both artistically and physically - was presenting the concept of orgasmic childbirth. Von Waldenburg had researched the rarely discussed subject before the birth of her own child, and eventually experienced eighteen hours of labor. In the play von Waldenburg retells the experience of pain and plaeasure as she crawls on the black dirt that surrounds the stage - but not before offering live oysters to the audience. A single light bulb descending towards the middle of the stage serves not only as an appropriate ending to the birth scene but also as a reminder of what Zishan Ugurlu says is at the very core of the stories told: hope.

No comments:

Post a Comment