Quote Unquote Collective, Nightwood Theatre and Why Not Theatre/ Now You See Her created and performed by Lisa Karen Cox, Maggie Huculak, Raha Javanfar, Amy Nostbakken, Norah Sadava and Cheyenne Scott, directed by Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Oct. 16 to Nov. 4. Tickets available at 416-975-8555 or buddiesinbadtimes.com.
Quote Unquote Collective, the creative talent behind the brilliant Mouthpiece (2015), is back with another original production that explores the female experience. In Now You See Her, co-artistic directors, Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava, have been inspired by the forces that make women invisible in society. Nostbakken and Sadava have joined forces with four other performers to create an intriguing and ambitious work. Through text, movement, song and visual effects, the collective has crafted an extravaganza that is an assault on both the mind and the senses.
Shows created by collectives can be unruly and rambling affairs, so strong throughlines have to be developed to give the production shape. In Now You See Her, each woman has her own character trajectory, and the core of the show is their interweaving stories. In some cases, the forces conspiring to make the woman invisible are very clear; in other cases, the audience has to connect the dots. We also follow the women through the four seasons, although how the seasons are a factor in their lives is vague indeed. They are also supposed to come from different parts of the country, but in reality, that is a non-issue. Nonetheless, the strong performances by the six charismatic creators give Now You See Her its zest, vigor and vitality. These women perform from the heart, and the action literally flies off the stage.
Raha Javanfar functions as a wry carnival barker/narrator. Through her satiric slam poetry, we learn that she was a child violinist in Iran who was smothered by that country’s oppression of women. She is the conscience of the show, providing fascinating historical facts such as the staggering number of women who made the initial scientific discoveries, only to lose out on the Nobel Prize to men.
The characters of Nostbakken and Sadava suffer from well-defined loss of visibility. Nostbakken is a scientist studying stresses on honeybee populations. We see her at several conferences where she is literally ignored by the men. Sadava is a new mother on maternity leave who feels that she has disappeared from sight.
Maggie Huculak is an esteemed journalist receiving a lifetime achievement award, yet she seems to have little of material value to show for it. “You can’t live on 50 cents a word,” she tells us. Lisa Karen Cox is a famous rock star, but the real woman, we gather, is lost in the trappings of her wigs and costumes. Cheyenne Scott is an indigenous university student who is dumped by her lesbian lover. She tells us right from the start that because she is an aboriginal woman, it is going to end badly, and she joins the ranks of the missing and murdered.
Nostbakken has written evocative original music which the women perform a cappella, and these dramatic vocalise chorales mirror the angst of their lives. Similarly, Orian Michaeli’s forceful and muscular movement also reflects their inner turmoil. Jung-Hye Kim’s design for set, props and costumes is simple but effective. In a show that is basically a series of vignettes, changes have to be fast and smooth, and Kim has ensured that they are. André du Toit’s lighting is wonderfully detailed in spotlighting the constantly shifting stage action. Kaitlin Hickey and Lillian Ross-Millard have crafted eye-catching video projections, particularly for Cox’s rock star. James Bunton’s sound design has some very clever effects.
Now You Hear Her is an imaginative treatment of an important subject. It apparently took three years to pull this project together, but the effort was worth it. The show gives the audience a lot to think about as they leave the theatre.