Montreal-based performer Dana Michel’s latest solo piece, Mercurial George, may partly take its name from the Curious George series, but the artist’s curiosity takes her audience further than a storybook ever could.
Many of us could pore over a box of mementos and explain their significance. In its way, Mercurial George is that kind of journey. Michel explores her identity through space and stuff without apology or further explanation. No explanation is needed, though, if one accepts the role of spectator as just that. If discomfort arises from the house, it stems from artist’s penchant for showing, but not necessarily sharing. If the spectator can put aside a need to know, Michel does in fact tell us the story of herself.
Michel enters the playing space on the floor, dragging her body to her first array of objects. She has no vocabulary to guide her, and it appears her body does not obey her either. She moves from this childlike vulnerability, still clumsy, still mostly speechless, into sequences that explore themes of gender, domesticity, sexuality, race, and cultural identity merely through the objects she handles and the words she eventually finds. In one especially stunning moment, Michel stands at a podium housed by a small tent. As she puts on a pair of white gloves, she practices intonation on the words “milk, cream, salt.” She deconstructs the way language is coded, its use as a tool of self-affirmation, or societal classification, or oppression, or all three at once. This discordance is the crux of Michel’s work, and the effect is simply spectacular.
At the end of the piece, Michel circles the space, partly walking, partly hobbling, but fully aware. That’s what identity is, is it not? We grow up, no less vulnerable or in pain than we were in infancy, only more in control of how we move through life with these strains on our consciousness. In Mercurial George, Dana Michel displays commitment, vulnerability, and triumph over crisis: those benchmarks of theatre that keep us coming back.
Mercurial George is performed as part of the American Realness festival, which continues through January 12.