cw// discussion of rape and suicide
Let’s start with the end.
At the end of Dirty Crusty, Clare Barron’s play about a messy fucking woman, a troupe of young girls come out, all under the age of 10. They are wearing cutesy little animal masks and pristine white leotards with gauzy skirts and sweet satin ballet slippers. They are, without a doubt, completely adorable.
And they come out and they flood the stage and they start to dance, alongside Abiona Omonua’s lithe Synda and Douggie McMeekin’s lumbering Victor, and they’re doing the ballet that Synda and Akiya Henry’s Jeanine were practising earlier in the play, and they’re all quite bad, but it doesn’t matter, because little girls being cute! Look! And look how hard Victor’s trying, even though he refused to stop fucking Jeanine when she told him, repeatedly, that she wasn’t in the mood! Everyone is awwing, including me! Jeanine is dead! She killed herself by taking pills onstage for a really long time! And weirdly, at the side of the stage so the people in the slips just couldn’t see anything! And oh look, he’s picked up one of the little girls – so gently, oh so gently! And now Synda is pretending to die in his arms, and the arc of her body looks so beautiful, and he holds her with such care. And now the girls are running back on for the bows and we’re all clapping, and despite myself, and despite what I’ve seen, I’m clapping too, and my heart feels full.
And then the lights come up, and we go into the bar, and something occurs to me, and I turn to my friend and I say – “They’re the chicks.”
Do you remember the chicks? From This Beautiful Future? Also directed by Jay Miller, also at The Yard. At the end of that play, the actors opened a box and gently took out a bunch of live chicks. You could hear them chirping, or chirruping, or whatever chicks do, I’m not a fucking nerd. And it was a beautiful image, and you left feeling…well, just feeling. Tender. Tearful, maybe. After an often very tough play (about Nazis falling in love, which was, you know, a choice – but that’s for another day) There’s a similar alchemy at work here. But This Beautiful Future did it better, even if I do think bringing small alive things onstage is often the directorial equivalent of throwing a dead cat on the table. To quote myself (sorry), “Why bring a fucking dog onstage?” You’re practically guaranteed a gut reaction if you bring a baby on, or a bunch of chicks, or a fluffy dog, or a troupe of little girls in tutus. It often feels like a distraction. And what exactly are you trying to distract me from? Hm?
Maybe you can get away with that ending, that genuinely lovely, openly sentimental ending if the rest of the sticky, crunchy play is handled with care and delicacy. And often, it is – that gorgeous scene with Synda and Jeanine going through the steps of the ballet and narrating (“You’re beautiful!” “No, I’m shy.”) is such a pure, heady delight that matches the delirious highs of Dance Nation’s best lines (“I don’t know what the FUCK this is but it’s not Gandhi”). Barron has such an eye for the absurd-natural, for the strange rhythms humans speak with. It’s a more unwieldy text than Dance Nation – as messy and sprawling as the piles of clothes which inch towards the edges of Jeanine’s mould-encrusted room.
But then, there’s the sexual assault, and the suicide. Which are not handled well. Not at all. As @reviewsandtings pointed out on Twitter, “There’s no intimacy director listed in the creative team for Dirty Crusty at Yard Theatre and that is an alarming thing.”
It’s not good. It does not feel like appropriate care was taken with the sexual assault in particular. It just happens, for a while. About 20 seconds. And then these blue curtains sweep around them and we move on, except we don’t move on, because we can’t move on. It feels weird, and awkwardly done, like neither of the actors particularly know what they’re meant to be doing or why they’re doing it. Shall I play devil’s advocate? Just for a second? Maybe that’s meant to be indicative of those “grey area” moments, where consent is blurred, things are confusing, blah blah blah. After all, the play itself is meandering, ambling through Jeanine’s life. Just a series of moments happening after other moments. And maybe this was just another moment. As tiny and enormous as any other moment. Maybe. But maybe also it just wasn’t done right, and due diligence should have been taken to make it right.
I have less to say about the depiction of Jeanine’s suicide, except that it felt abrupt – and not in a good way – more in a, I don’t think this has been dramaturged properly and rigorously in the context of the rest of the play kind of way. And it felt weird. And not good. Maybe it was because it took place after the sexual assault, and the seeming lack of care that infused that moment carried over to this. But it felt bad. I don’t know why. I need to think about it more. But I don’t want to. I’ve seen two badly handled onstage suicides in the last two weeks and I’d like to not think about that. Also, The Yard, please signpost your content warnings more clearly.
I don’t know how to end this. I’m not going to end it properly because I don’t have to because I’m not writing for anyone. I’m tired and anxious. Bye.