Watching Neal Medlyn’s …Her’s A Queen at DTW on Friday night, I had that rare sensation of witnessing an artist truly evolve into the next phase of their career. I had that startling and wonderful sensation of discovery that comes when an artist takes you with them into a world so poignantly and clearly their own that it feels essentially true, like they’re speaking directly into your head in a language that comes before words.
I want to call it the first piece of post-contemporary performance I’ve seen, knowing full well that the notion of “post-contemporary” is impossible. But …Her’s A Queen feels like the realization of the impossible, an authentic new way of storytelling, post-narrative, post-identity, post-gender, post-theory; a mode of engagement that at once bears the stamp of the confessional autobiographical solo show and the deconstructed performance piece while being wholly, utterly sincere. Neal is the first person I’ve seen who has figured out “The New Sincerity.”
That’s always been part of Neal’s appeal – his utter sincerity. Finally he’s found a way to convey that in a multilayered, multi-textual complicated form that allows him to channel what I believe to be his authentic voice, the real Neal, not just the “commenting” Neal. He uses the detritus of the Britney Spears Phenomenon to get to the core of existential isolation in a media saturated culture, to get to the solitude and loneliness underpinning everyday life. You can’t fuck it away, you can’t drink it away ….
His constant companion, “Pea in a Pod”, played by Carmine Covelli, stands in for all the distractions that Neal turns to to try and fill the voice. He is Adnan Ghalib, always photographing and lying and manipulating; he is Britney’s babies, he is Britney’s sycophants, he is a mystical bear and he is illusion. They wrestle, they fight, they hug in a painful, awkward, uncomfortable embrace that can’t possibly provide comfort. They have an onstage cuddle party, they play games … but through it all Neal/Britney is misunderstood and stays isolated and empty. Covelli’s constant picture-taking provides a literal backdrop of exploitive photos that are both beautiful and prurient. They reference paparazzo tropes and grunge-era photographs – Medlyn howls and sings in his own voice, bringing Cobain-angst to Britney’s sugarpop confections.
Maybe this was just one of those things where I was in the right headspace for the show, maybe I’m wrong. But I’m willing to make that bet. Medlyn really pulled it out with this one, it is an angst-y, hilarious, intense, messy, spectacular accomplishment. The soundtrack is twisted and distorted – it is obvious that Neal is working with some fantastic collaborators who have really helped him to bring his game to the next level. …Her’s A Queen crackles with edgy fury as it threatens to spiral into violence and chaos, then it rests: spent, lost, alienated and alone only to rise from its ashes and stare at us defiantly, tragically hopefully and deluded, crying out to us and for us, “See? I’m Magic!”
It is the beautiful destruction of endless distraction and it is us.