Singlet’s Whole World: Audrey Moyce Responds
Singlet, created by Erin Markey and performed by both Markey and their longtime collaborator Emily Davis, runs through June 3 at the Bushwick Starr.
The opening scene had me, instantly. Overly anxious obsessions over shirt size, sequined goalie uniforms, intense physical proximity mimicking some sort of codependent bond, sublimated/repressed eroticism of friendships… Though their insular world went weird, and quickly, I was there, because they were there. Davis and Markey have the attunement to one another that only comes from a sustained exposure to the other’s way of standing, talking, moving, being-in-the-world.
After this scene ends, they wrestle within a ring painted on the ground, with a lion in the middle. Next, they become high school coaches Christie Brinkley (no relation) and Pooh Bear (again, no relation). While other characters come into the scene, instead of placing those invisible characters around the stage, they place them into each other. The stage directions suggest a world of their own even when multiple other characters are in play: “They speak directly and only to each other, as if the class is inside them both“; “We see none of this scene, but ERIN[/MOM] and EMILY[/DAUGHTER] see it and they are both the GRANDMA to one another.” This also comes to mean that the two actors will maintain eye contact, body language, and proximity to one another, even as the character they are speaking to (or as) changes.
I loved the many places this convention brought me to: everyone we’ve ever loved and who has hurt us stays with us always and follows us into our future relationships… the single mindedness that an obsessive friendship and/or love fosters—”You are my whole world, my everything”…I even thought about how young actors often want to maintain eye contact and close proximity with their scene partner at all times, despite the fact that a little breathing room often lets the audience in better.
Which, in turn, made me wonder: am I meant to be let in? This practice of placing multiple characters inside one body took me a while to understand, and even then I often lost track of the dialogue in the process of remembering who was being who. This was frustrating.
I tend to enjoy frustration. Part of the puzzle I was working over as I watched was what was different about Singlet. One thing is, I think pieces of the show that frustrated me in a “good” way seemed to have a bit more scaffolding. Like the dialogue between mother and daughter, in which the daughter starts calling her mother hot. “You would make a lot of money as a stripper,” she says in a complimentary fashion. “Well. I don’t think anybody would want to see that,” Mom replies. “I would want to see it,” says Daughter, of the thought of her own mother denuding.
While I don’t have an inkling why Daughter is pushing so hard for this, I can have fun with guesses, or feel led down a shadowy path. Like how the way women’s bodies are sexualized and commodified worms its weird way into all of our relationships with other women. Sort of a pessimistic response to Adrienne Rich’s notion of a lesbian continuum.
Which brings me to: I read beforehand that “they” and “them” are pronouns Markey uses, somewhat interchangeable with “she” and “her.” Then I promptly forgot this for the duration of the show and I felt insensitive for it. Does this say more about me or about the show? A bit of both, surely. I saw a lot of play with hyper-femininity (painted nails, braided hair, matching necklaces, sequins) and –masculinity (mustaches, grappling—Oh, I realized very belatedly. A singlet is one of those wrestling unitards) throughout. A lot of effort was put into doubling Markey with Davis—their hair styled identically, identical black singlets with a different color stripe, and a scene with their both playing both roles. What does it mean, then, that Davis and Markey don’t share pronoun preferences?
Later on, for an extended period of time, the two performers attempt to speak in unison. This seemed like the endgame of placing every character inside each other: now, they are both the same two people. Unfortunately, the fact that the unison wasn’t quite pulled off—lines were dropped, rhythms didn’t quite match—undercut the effectivity of this section.
Despite the occasional episodes of frustration, I will think of some moments from the show for a long time. Take a scene improvised by Christie Brinkley and Pooh Bear. They are ostensibly illustrating a way to use the word “mesa” in everyday conversation, but what ensues in their roleplay is a highly sexually charged scene between two high schoolers who sublimate their mutual attraction through admiration of a vintage sweater. Just before they lean in for a kiss, they break their own spell by making a sound like a school bell, and they are back to being coaches again. This sort of transition felt much more effective as connective tissue than did the wrestling and dance sequences between each scene. I would have liked more of this type of stitching throughout; where I can tell that even if I don’t know why A leads to B, I can confidently feel that both Markey and Davis know why, and they are leading us there with as much information as we need.