After stumbling through the fresh snow and bracing the piercing cold, I was glad to find myself in the warm and inviting lobby of the Cultch on this Saturday evening. This was the first show I attended at PuSh this year with an assigned seating, and I was thrilled to have been assigned a seat in the center last row of the orchestra section – perhaps my favourite spot in the house. I had heard nothing but great reviews for this production of Mouthpiece by Quote Unquote Collective and Why Not Theatre from Toronto, which was definitely reflected in the attendance of this show even in the traffic madness that this day had seen. Two acapella voices appeared out of one of the darkest blackout I had ever seen, and hummed in harmony for the next two minutes as we stared onto the dark stage. From the moment when the lights revealed the two actresses in the white bathtub upstage, they had kept us absolutely engaged for the next hour. Both of these voices belong to the same woman, who wakes up this morning to the news of her mother’s death. Mouthpiece depicts the external influence and internal dialogue every woman may relate to in their everyday life.
Both actresses had a strong physical training background (one from Dell’Arte School of Physical Theatre in California, and one from L’École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris), and it was evident in their performance. The two voices mostly spoke in perfect unison in impeccable speed with tight choreography. Having the white leotards as their only costume in the show, they relied on their voice and physicality to portray characters. In this case, the leotards are similar to neutral mask in that it took the costumes and props out of the equation, and allowed them to use their body and voice as the sole instrument in their character work.
A notable moment in the show was when the two actresses went up to the microphone downstage right and inhaled in apparent preparation to scream. At this point in the show, the microphone had been used numerous times as a channel for the woman to explore the eulogy she has been trying to write, and we also knew that the microphone could get quite loud especially in the small and acoustically resonant space such as the Cultch Historic Theatre. As we all tensed up in fear of the overwhelming scream that was about to attack our eardrums, the two actresses let out a breathy exhale instead. They inhaled again, but this time only a small squirm. While this could be seen as a gesture to express the censorship (external or self-imposed) and oppression women experience in their daily life, this also reminded me of Brecht’s idea of Gestus which I have done a small research on. One of the most famous examples of Gestus was from his play Mother Courage and Her Children, where Mother Courage could only let out a silent scream in agony from the death of her son, as to not endanger her daughter by alarming others in the forest. Gestus is powerful in that each of these actions is filled with depiction of the character’s social context. In the case of Mouthpiece, it showed that the loss of the woman’s voice could be a result of how she feels she must be perceived in the eyes of others.
In the final moments of the play, both actresses struggled to reach the microphone to deliver the eulogy as they kept grabbing each other by the hip and throwing each other on the floor. This back and forth continued for at least the next two minutes. It was the most powerful moment of the play for me; not only could we see the physical exhaustion that both actresses were feeling, we also understood that this struggle was not an exaggeration, but in fact simply a portion of what the character must’ve been experiencing in her journey to find the right words for her mother.
The intimate and simple set up of Mouthpiece tells me that it might have started as a Fringe show, but it was evident from the perfect coordination and choreography that it had gone through an intensive development and rehearsal process. The finished result was a stunner; a rigorous examination of a woman’s battle with her conscious mind. The audience responded with a long standing ovation and exciting chatters as they exited the theatre. It left me a memorable impression of the power of a storytelling through voice and gestures, and once again hammered in the need for feminism in a divided society.