Missdick Vibrocis

A strange, unsettling pair emerge from above and surge down the stairs towards the stage, sliding down banisters, their bodies a’rage, thrashing the movements of the punkest parade that has graced my gauge in a street kid’s spiked collared Pitbull’s age. They slayed and I was blown away by the power of their mad cabaret. Week two of Buddies in Bad Times’ 39th annual Rhubarb Festival was in full screaming swing, and I swung like a puppet on an electrified string.

Abrasive. Vivacious. Aggressive. Transgressive. Hilarious. This megameta convergence of frantic antics and obnoxious bombastic praxis is the stunningly awe-full Missdick Vibrocis. I was enthralled by the throes of the odd ball of subculture crushing curveballs conducted by outsider artists Lorene Bouboushian and Jill Flanagan, who reside in Brooklyn, NY and Chicago, respectively.

Embodying black mold on art house society’s showerhead, our hosts peeled back the shower curtain spread over the droopy frame of stagnantly stuffy, willfully distracted, conventionally alternative propriety, chanting IT IS FUCKED! Why this caca-phonous intensity? Is such nonsense really necessary? Not everyone is concerned with queered neologisms and the frontiers of gender-conscious engagement, sigh. And also, confrontational punk aesthetics are questionably relevant and often simply an excuse for privileged self-indulgence, ughh? If I’d know what you were I may have gone to the other show, thanks.

Missdick Vibrocis chopped audience expectations into fat lines on a crusted funhouse mirror and aggressively thrust it into their spectator’s nostrils. Conscious of the disgust they quite probably evoked amongst nicer people, they distributed a waiver absolving themselves of accountability in the event of cognitive meltdown. And, as they pointed out, if one was truly disturbed by the dynamic duo’s disruptive demeanours there was the recourse of writing a note to the Disemboweled Mannequin Safe Space Coordinator perched protectively on the back corner of the stage. Noone had the guts.

A spastic roast ensued, as Lorene and Jill interrogated their ‘radically socially conscious performance art work’ and issued citations for past transgressions. Each had run reds at social intersections, according to the other. A reckoning was due, and they held each other to account for their offences, which varied from dropping the ball, bossiness, being violent towards audience members (licking), using implied rather than explicit audience consent, disrespecting private property due to class privilege and appropriating identities they have no lived experience of. A particularly poignant moment was Lorene’s delivery of the T For Transgender vignette, an urgent cry for cis visibility expressing the vital need of bringing the bodies of cis allies into the spotlight. This dose of truth was so potent that Jill experienced the cleansing catharsis of puking on the floor.

All perceptions are mediated by the individual’s accumulated history. I viewed Missdick Vibrocis from the position of a seasoned spectator and performer of hardcore punk. I wondered how different my experience of the show was from others without a history and knowledge of punk. Was the nightmarish videogame soundtrack simply noise to them, just another element of an unexpected annoyance that flew over their heads like a rubber chicken inflated with nitrous oxide? I certainly heard laughter from the crowd and saw some smiling faces, but I also noticed a few jaded eyebrows raised in response to the ludicrous lunacy unfolding before them.

A sense of uncertainty permeated my engagement with the performance. One definition of punk that I subscribe to is that it is the removal of boundaries between performer and audience. In this case, the boundaries remained in place. I was afraid to mount the stage and write a note for the Disemboweled Mannequin Safe Space Coordinator, despite the ostensibly explicit invitation to do so.

The audience was much too reserved, creating a jarring clash with the essence of the performance and holding it back from reaching its ultimate potential. I felt that Missdick Vibrocis begged for chaotic interactive engagement the likes of which I personally have only experienced at hard core punk shows, a subculture which, though generally accepting of individual lifestyle choices, is often uninterested in nuanced discourses of intersectional identity politics. Missdick’s polished devastation, in a dark room with no seats, no elevated stage and a bunch of screaming punks, would melt me like the Wicked Witch of the West.  

Perhaps some readers may question my classification of Missdick as punk. They are more of a performance group than a band, and although the soundtrack they composed and the songs they sing are jarring and abrasive, it closest genre categorization may be noise/industrial, rather than conventional punk. Crucially, however, their delivery was as unquestionably in-your-face as any punk band I’ve seen. But what about the content, and all this gender stuff. Do we really have to go there? Yes.

Punk has always elusively resisted the confinement of genre boundaries. A key familial resemblance among its diverse iterations is rejecting and subverting the status quo. As we dangle over the precipice of the Moron Apocalypse, legions of whining free speech warriors of all stripes bemoan the encroachment of political correctness upon their right to enforce or ignore expressions of oppression. Some of them dress and act as punks. A simple reminder: Costumes and addictions don’t make one punk. Critical thoughts and convictions do. In this mcmodern era, punk still means resisting status quo values, which are racist, sexist, classist, ableist, consumerist, homophobic and particularly transphobic. Posers abound, whether dressed in mall bought punk uniforms or painstakingly patched and grimed gutter regalia. Such sheep in punks clothing scratch out territories of ill-founded, unreflective philosophies and lifestyles that they vigorously classify as punk. All too often they are blissfully and willfully ignorant of how they function as simply another link in chains of oppression.

Missdick Vibrocis embody the resistant, unsettling spirit of true punk, awoken from it’s alleyway slumber to vomit honesty and shake piss on slack jawed bystanders. Without apology.

 

MOTHERLOAD

Two older men sit across from each other on the stage. Papers rustle and chairs scuff as the audience settles into position. The men apply lipstick with small mirrors. Makeup finished, each dons a beautiful scarf, one in classic kerchief style, the other wrapped loosely about the neck. Having witnessed the completion of the transformation, the audience hushes as two old women seat themselves on a bench center stage. It is week two of Buddies in Bad Times 39th annual Rhubarb Festival, and the show is about to begin.

In Motherload, by Brian Cope and Charles Hayter, we travel into the psyche of two mothers whose sons exit the cupboard later in life. The establishment of the characters is so masterfully conducted that it is likely that many in the audience would have quickly felt a comforting, or perhaps disquieting, familiarity. I was reminded of Scott Thompson’s convincing portrayals of older women, minus the ludicrousness.

Cope and Hayter cast a net of finely tooled expressions and movements; an uplifted brow, a dismissive flip of the hand, a curious appraisal or a disapproving glance that instantly communicates the disgust of an offended cat. The devil is in the details, and it was the execution of physical punctuation that imbued the dialogue with a captivating authenticity. I felt that the underlying personalities of the characters would have been crystal clear to the members of the deaf community who were present the first night I attended.

Initially repelled by ingrained defenses, boundaries are lowered as the two come to recognize their commonalities and bond over shared comforts and pains. Wandering their reminisces, the mothers guide an exploration of the traditions, taboos and landmarks of their generation. This journey through the not so distant ages is given flesh through idioms and mannerisms and engagement with customs and culture. Audience participation in a round of Pass The Parcel makes it physically tangible. Other senses are stimulated through the sharing of treats, song and dance. We are able to sip the draught of distilled sadness and unresolved angers that mingle with happier flavours in the cups of the aged. The women phase between past and present, revisiting pivotal moments and confronting past sins of deceased husbands. How does one forgive the ultimate betrayal, death? And how does one navigate their relationship with an adult son who has only recently revealed themselves to be gay?

Queers have always existed. Countless mothers across the vastness of time have been presented with the opportunity and challenge of loving their children for who they really are. Despite the indoctrination of behavior governing norms, and certain rejection in many cases, surely the adage of mothers loving their children despite their transgressions has also rung true innumerable times. As societies have developed along the twisting pathways of existence, so have codes of subtle recognition evolved. In Motherload, these codewords function as humorous openings and points of connection across time. The inflection of terms such as divorced, online friends, nancy boys, the metaphor of grown men sampling nanaimo bars, spoke volumes and evoked laughter.

Ultimately, the craft of stage and script functioned as a portal through time and planes of existence; more than just their own mothers, the players channeled the archetypal matriarchs of a fast vanishing generation. After seeing the play a second time, I realized that I had brushed against my own grandmother, who has been dead for twenty-five years.

Leaving the theater, I found myself reflecting on how my experience of Motherload was mediated by my own straightness. What would the play mean to gays who have and have not yet come out to family, and particularly to those who will never have the chance as their parents have died? Perhaps for them it was an opportunity to engage in a dialogue they have long wished for and missed. Perhaps it may even have felt like redemption. Motherload is poignant and full to the bittersweet brim. I hope it will appear on stage again in the not too distant future.  

 

White Girls In Moccasins, a review

Oppression’s aesthetic, concentrated with artistic intention and filtered through page or stage, produces powerful immersive realities that far exceed recommended doses inscribed on media pill bottles. When the Empire writes back, assertions of autonomous identity and scathing rejections of conventional untruths subvert and transmute modes of performance and expression. Violently grafted tongues manipulate and elevate the language of the colonizer, shaping arguments and narratives of exceeding intensity, beauty and resistance. An invitation is extended to the audience, to sight through a magnified scope and interrogate apex cultural predators with a fidelity and resonance that far exceeds the perspectives offered by customary, urbane lenses. Drama’s potential as pinnacle medium of truth is experienced in a powerful, unsettling exchange.

On opening night of the 39th annual Rhubarb Festival, during the first scene of Yolanda Bonnell’s White Girls In Moccasins, sirens wailed through the walls of Buddies In Bad Times theatre. This intrusive urban noisebleed added layers of dissonant harmonies to a hand drum song describing “a place where grass used to grow”. It seemed an appropriate counterpoint to the urgent narrative developing on the stage.

White Girls In Moccasins follows a young Indigenous woman and her reified white doppleganger as they play the repeating game through stages of trauma and painful self-discovery. Childhood games of make-believe evolve to bouts of pill-popping pattycake. Jarringly beautiful original songs and familiar musical themes from Wheel of Fortune and The Little Mermaid entwine authentic voices with displaced cultural references.

Objective facets of contemporary Canadian Indigeneity arise; snakes of abuse that coil round young Indigenous women, the violent toxicity of relationships with white men and women, institutional rejection and cultural commodification and appropriation. However, it is the subjective modes of ongoing colonization that are the true focus of this compelling piece. The internal disneyfication and white-washing-over of self-identity that result from existing within and outside of dominant colonial culture are given physical form by the insidious mimicry of the everpresent white girl. Woven throughout the narrative is an underlying uncertainty; who is copying who; who is it that embodies a vessel for an other culture? How does one disentangle themselves from twisting paths that lead away from knowledge, understanding and love of a distinct self?

While certainly tackling dark and challenging subjects, White Girls In Moccasins also evokes quirky laughter as well as painful empathy and interrogation of self and culture. Riveting performances and a gripping narrative hold the audience rapt from beginning to end. This play further enriches the cannon of Canadian Indigenous theatre and is a must see for those already engaged with the genre. For newcomers, it is a powerful point of initiation to the frontiers of cross-cultural communication. I wholeheartedly recommend that you create an opportunity to witness and engage with this enthralling production.