Review: Mother Teresa Sings, in Drag and With Doubts

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Review: Mother Teresa Sings, in Drag and With Doubts
Review: Mother Teresa Sings, in Drag and With Doubts

Evaluate: Mom Teresa Sings, in Drag and With Doubts

Theater in Quarantine, an organization that since March has been streaming experimental works from its founder’s closet, turns the constraints of its odd circumstances into a fabulous type.

A type of constraints, in fact, is house: The 4-foot-by-8-foot-by-2-foot closet calls for shipshape compositions, big-gestured and graphic, that wind up translating superbly to screens giant and small.

One other is time: There may be solely a lot cardio multitasking that Joshua William Gelb, whose closet it’s, can endure alone in his East Village condominium. The remainder of the manufacturing crew operates remotely.

That exercise has by no means been as evident as it’s in Heather Christian’s “I Am Sending You the Sacred Face,” which had its premiere on Theater in Quarantine’s YouTube channel on Monday night time. Although lower than 40 minutes lengthy, it left Gelb panting within the post-show dialogue.

It additionally left me wanting extra, which isn’t often my response to such obscure, if transfixing, materials. Word to those that visitors within the avant-garde: concision is your buddy.

However for many who visitors in historical past and hagiography, concision might be problematic, suggesting a reliance on Wikipedia. “Sacred Face,” an “expressionistic musical portrait” of Mom Teresa, addresses that drawback by making every minute as dense as attainable: verbally, visually, musically and theatrically. It’s a layer cake so wealthy that the self-abnegating Albanian-born nun, whose work with India’s dying poor led to a Nobel Prize throughout her lifetime and canonization after, would absolutely by no means contact it.

That paradox is beneficial right here. How can we perceive a lady who took her vow of poverty to such extremes that it got here to look like opulence — and even, to some, psychopathology?

In earlier works together with the oratorio “Animal Knowledge,” Christian has demonstrated an insider’s consolation with advanced spiritual thought that makes her a pure match for this topic. Her restlessly clever lyrics, glancingly rhymed and set to beautiful drones of melody, acknowledge the mysteries of the character and in addition a variety of attainable responses to her.

“I like my rotten bulgur, I enjoyment of days of starvation,” this Mom Teresa sings in a quantity known as “Poverty Discuss,” leaving you to resolve whether or not her self-denial is a sort of heroism or masochism.

Really, it’s a simplification of the present’s advanced methodology to say that Mom Teresa sings that quantity. Fairly, the complete present — songs, speeches and musical accompaniment — has been recorded by Christian, who stays only a voice all through. Onscreen we see solely Gelb, in selfmade drag, lip-syncing the libretto whereas performing intricate choreography by Katie Rose McLaughlin that’s a little bit bit classical Indian, a little bit bit vogueing Madonna.

As realized by the scenographer Kristen Robinson and the video designer Stivo Arnoczy, the reside picture is multiplied and kaleidoscoped into compositions that resemble Byzantine altar items with their formal framing and visible echoes. When you’ve got by no means envisioned Mom Teresa as a person with chest hair in a low-cut sari made from sequins and painter’s tape, gyrating to songs about poverty as an “exalted state,” now you don’t need to.

And but “Sacred Face” isn’t outrageous merely for the shock or delight of it. Christian specifies drag within the script (and alludes to it within the title) with critical intent; certainly, the manufacturing has employed Dito van Reigersberg, generally often known as Martha Graham Cracker, to offer “drag dramaturgy.” Within the complexity of a person enjoying a lady, the present means to light up the contradictions of Mom Teresa’s self-presentation: At house solely within the Calcutta slums, she made her greatest splash in Stockholm; agency in her beliefs in public, she remained, in personal, tormented for 50 years by doubt.

I do want the story had leaned tougher into that contradiction — not simply in characterization and theatrical type, however in argument. Mom Teresa was, in any case, a really public determine.

However apart from a preshow recording of her Nobel acceptance speech, by which she emphasised her adamant opposition to abortion — whereas avoiding point out of her equally adamant opposition to contraception — “Sacred Face” retains political controversy at a distance. It leaves the viewers to intuit the paradox of a lady born into comfy circumstances who, whereas easing the struggling of the poor, did little to assist forestall their poverty. Why ought to she, if poverty was so exalted?

For Theater in Quarantine, that will have appeared like a well-known drawback. Its constraints refashioned as rules embody not simply time and house but additionally cash. “Sacred Face,” produced with Theater Mitu, had a funds of $2,500, a pittance; St. Teresa’s halo is a repurposed LED ring gentle.

Even so, the extent of sophistication tried inside that funds could also be stretching the corporate’s talents and aesthetics too far. To apprehend Christian’s lyrics in a single hear requires clearer sound than they get right here. (Turning on the captioning helps.) And the precept of reside efficiency streamed from an actual location — so evident in lower-tech Theater in Quarantine productions like “The seventh Voyage of Egon Tichy,” in July — is to some extent undercut by the digital video processing, nevertheless spectacular. Elements of “Sacred Face” appear to be coming from a pc, not a closet.

These are unavoidable rising pains for a theater adapting a philosophy shaped in haste to an ongoing emergency. Additionally adapting to success. Every of the corporate’s 16 productions since March, seven of them dance displays, has drawn a much bigger viewers than the final, beginning with a handful of viewers and rising to a number of thousand. Extra performances of every work are actually provided: Livestreams of “Sacred Face” proceed by Friday, after which a recorded model will stay obtainable indefinitely.

To the extent that Theater in Quarantine’s progress permits it to supply beguiling area of interest works like “Sacred Face,” I can’t however applaud the progress. However as Mom Teresa found, enjoying on bigger levels comes with its personal contradictions. How lengthy earlier than the corporate finds that its vow of poverty is just too pricey to maintain?

I Am Sending You the Sacred Face
Livestreamed performances Dec. 16 and Dec. 18 on YouTube; a recording will stay obtainable on YouTube; joshuawilliamgelb.com/theater-in-quarantine

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