The Folding WifeA woman and two men enter the space. She strips down to her underwear, and the men begin to move around her, adding and subtracting things from her mannequin-like body. What follows is a living slideshow of culturally clichéd images, created by costumes, props, body positions and movements. The men move gracefully around the passive woman, moulding her body gently, but purposefully. As gentle as they are, the men implicitly become the dominators. It is they who decide which shapes the woman will become, which symbols she will represent, and which stereotypes she will submit to. They cover her head with fabric, tape objects to her body with masking tape and hang signs around her, evoking many images of, for instance, cultural identity, war and religion.

The Folding Wife, written by Paschal Daantos Berry, is, according to him, a “biographical fiction.” The piece is therefore highly personal, so it seems fitting that the performer would be his sister, Valerie Berry. Her closeness to the subject matter is evident, and very effective. The text is beautifully poetic, evoking the lives of three generations of Filipino women, and constructed through fragments of poetry and shards of anecdotes. The notion of the folding wife is open to interpretation and negotiation. However, to my understanding, the title refers to a wife who will fold into herself, who will become something that she is not, who will be submissive and passive. Valerie Berry’s performance is wonderfully understated. She seamlessly switches between the women of three generations, including subtle differences in stance, tone of voice, and mannerisms. “In the folds and creases of her possessions, in the images and anecdotes about the matriarchs of her family she is able to unravel her own identity,” as Paschal Berry notes in the programme.

Director Deborah Pollard, while clearly instrumental in the creative process, has also left space for each of the creative artists to flesh out their craft. The Filipino-based Anino Shadowplay Collective, is represented here by two of its core members, Datu Arellano and Andrew Cruz. The two artists create stunningly evocative imagery, surprisingly by merely an overhead projector and a data projector. Their work is not confined merely to the projection screen, however, as they also project on the performer, use a mobile red lightbulb, and support Berry onstage. One particularly inspired moment has Arellano stomping down many pairs of Imelda Marcos-style shoes for Berry to use as stepping-stones across the stage. Arellano and Cruz are placed downstage, in full visibility of the audience. We can see not only the computer set-up, but also the decidedly lower-tech cut-outs, sand, water, food colouring, magnifying glasses and other materials used to create visual effects. The placement of these artists is a magical decision by Pollard, as the low-tech but undeniably evocative machinations are included as part of the performance text. This incorporation in the performance means that Arellano and Cruz can also add sound effects and visual support.

The mannequin image is repeated by the youngest of the three women at the end, however through her journey she has become less submissive: “I will not fold. I will not fold,” she chants. In many ways, this is a piece about polarities. In memory, there is much we forget. Through materialism, we find spirituality. And through the lives of others, we find ourselves.

Urban Theatre Projects in association with Blacktown Arts Centre present
The Folding Wife

Venue: Blacktown Arts Centre | Civic Plaza, Flushcombe Rd, Blacktown
Dates: April 19 - 28
Times: Tues - Sun @ 8pm
Tickets: $20/$15
Bookings: Blacktown Arts Centre 02 9839 6247 or Urban Theatre Projects 02 9707 2111

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