Wildside Review: A vulnerable letter to “Body So Fluorescent”

Special Festival Coverage

Amanda Cordner in Madonnanera’s award-winning solo show “Body So Fluorescent” (Photo: Cassandra Rudolph)

This is an unusual review for me.

I feel challenged in my understanding, and awakened as a result.

Reflecting on stories of race and queerness is not a new practice to me, even despite my relatively young career as a theatre writer, and more and more I find myself being fronted with and drawn to narratives of communities and cultures dissimilar to my own. These stories of diversity have been gifts in expanding my awareness of human struggles and my capacity for empathy, but the task of articulating knowledge on the unknowable “other” in a public forum is a rather daunting endeavour due to the great potential for misrepresentation. 

I look upon this luminous piece with tremendous interest and compassion, but as a non-Black woman (or gay man), I cannot claim to comprehend it as I feel I should. My ignorance is not by choice, though. I am listening and digging deep.

It is an effortless exercise to comment on the cosmetic aspects of Madonnanera’s Body So Fluorescent: “two close friends – Desirée, a heterosexual Black woman, and Gary, a gay white man – get into a fight at a club. Amanda Cordner, in a commanding solo performance on a bare stage, transitions between the two characters and their alter egos, presenting their respective perspectives on the events. Details of the incident are revealed, and their relationship is never again the same. Oh, and a guest artist performs fabulous dance numbers every night.”

What is decidedly more difficult this time around is to authentically relate with or conceive the complex trials at hand. Not all human experiences are universal, I’m afraid. I respectfully acknowledge that the intricacies of this particular story are not mine to properly explicate.

Yes, I am female; yes, I am Latina; yes, I am a first-generation immigrant. I like to think that being a part of some minority gives me insight into what other minorities endure, but it is not the same. At all.

I am not devoid of the ability to identify key contemporary issues of Black race: systemic discrimination, police brutality, oppression…  but I have not felt them in the skin. My appearance does not not evoke fear. I blend in with the innocent demographic – but I am not invisible. I do not live in the intersection between target stereotypes: the black male often at the focus of racial discussions or the white woman at the locus of feminist affairs. It is unfathomable to me what it is like to fall between the cracks of society, and it would be irresponsible of me to attempt to produce a review under the assumption that I can deduce it so.

What I do know: at its surface, the diva-esque, pop-music scored Body So Fluorescent is sexy, funny, provocative, and entertaining with its foreign lingo and fashion. Cordner is indeed a magnetic force in storytelling, and the out-there and brutally honest script (developed with director/co-writer David di Giovanni) demands much of her, physically and emotionally. As character masks are dropped, the performance proves to be as raw as it is polished. The messages of identity, image, inclusion, and association under the surface galvanize in what is a fascinating exploration of femininity and sexuality. The relationship between Desirée and Gary is particularly enigmatic as we study their jealousy and anger – a friendship held together, perhaps, by the shared desire to be seen and heard within the context of patriarchy. The gay club is their supposedly “safe space” for the expression of who they really are – or who they think and feel they should be.

I see and hear you, Body So Fluorescent, and regret my inability to fully capture and appreciate your voice. In turn, I can only extend my gratitude for newfound sensibility and sensitivity.

And, just in that, you have earned your most rightful place at the Wildside.

(That is my vulnerability.)

The 2019 Wildside Festival presents Madonnanera’s Body So Fluorescent.

Performances: Jan. 9 at 7pm, Jan. 12 at 7pm, Jan. 16 at 9pm, Jan. 18 at 7pm, and Jan. 19 at 9pm.
Duration: 60 minutes
Venue: Centaur Theatre | 453 St Francois Xavier St.
Warning: Flashing lights, sexually suggestive language and content, strong language, ages 15+
Admission: $16 Adults | $13 Students/Seniors/Under 30s
Box Office: 514-288-3161 | www.centaurtheatre.com/wildside-festival

For more 2019 Wildside Festival reviews, head over to www.montrealtheatrehub.com/wildside-festival-2019/

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