NUMB: thoughts on old school animation
“Uh what else was I gonna say?…I’m so cold.”
“Yeah it’s fuckin cold as fuck. Um. I have a lot questions about…how we…how we end this.”
Julia pricks up at Peter’s question, didn’t they make a decision about that already?
Sophie nods resolutely. She is still wearing her coat and her arms are glued in an embrace. Perhaps the most spirited, Kate smilingly jots down notes by and by. Mo puts her scarf back on. I do the same.
We have just seen a run-through of the second half of the short but potent [50/50] old school animation, a new work by Peter Mills Weiss and Julia Mounsey showing as part of the Incoming! Series at the 2018 Under the Radar Festival (January 10 & 15; tickets online). Today of all days New York is hit with a snowstorm rendering the bright and badly insulated rehearsal room an icebox. I’ve been told there are not one but two heaters both of which are spurting out warmish air in a two-foot radius. But the crew is determined. They want to get a full run in before their meeting with the Public Theater today.
When discussing experimental theater, there is a tendency to favor works with a huge “shock factor”; for the modern theater-maker, trauma is becoming a virtue. Whether or not this is deliberate or even avoidable is another story, but I cannot lie that I wasn’t intrigued by the promise of it. Instead, though, what I see in old school is a much more precise handling of fear. Julia’s small, gentle frame morphs in real time to our horror and upset. As she describes in detail the suffering she has inflicted on her friends, we come as close as we would ever hope to come to a sociopath – or at least Julia’s understanding of one. Perhaps I’m one more of the gullible masses but I really wondered whether such evil exists in people. If anything, Julia’s performance seemed plausible and a quick glance at the folks on Fox News makes it ever probable. But even as she talks candidly of abusing those closest to her, I could not let myself hate her. Her mistrust of her body spoke to me just as her coldness betrayed me. Somewhere in that lived paradox is the root of the root of a war. It is a way that women can be with each other, something secret and sinister lurking just below the eyelids that no one cares to look for. Never have I seen such a careful dissection of female friendship, akin to the work of Kurosawa or Peggy Lee. Gruesome though it may be, it is captivating.
The second half of the performance, which features Mo Fry Pasic, is distinctly lighter fare, with Mo doing a spot-on impression of the girls who seem to live in L.L Bean’s autumn wear. After being what I can only describe as “shook” by the opening monologue, this is a welcome change of pace. Mo stands alone on stage making multiple phone calls to her mom, her sister, and finally her best friend. All the while a video of a chirping bird loops in the background. Mo handles the realities of being her own sound operator with aplomb, using the downright silly keyboard sound effects afforded her as foil to her droning rants. She often repeats herself for the listener which gives both the impression of both a typical Chekhovian conversation and a record scratching. And when we watch her sense of self unroll as her best friend laughs at her over the phone, it is hard not to notice how easy that was. How little it takes to break someone. How quickly their mania breeds.
After the run I ask Julia what possessed her to create such a thing. She smiles and passes it on to Peter: What did he see in the original piece that made him want to get involved?
“I’d never seen Julia like that…and it surprised me,” he says. “To see her become someone who really…who really did these terrible things as a system.” Of self-care, she adds.
“Yeah, of self-care.” They thank me, run into what I hope is a very warm cab, and head to the theater. I start thinking about that, about the perversion and the preservation of self, about how femininity is billed as both allied and adverse with ferocity, about how actually biblically speaking the weakness of the body informs the strength of the will, and then I lose all feeling in my feet. The rest of my journey home is mostly a blur, but I suppose a part of me knew it was perfect timing.