Included in the Next Wave Festival, The Folding Wife originally premiered in Sydney in 2007 and is now enjoying a second outing on tour. Far from the high tech world of much of the festival, The Folding Wife is surprisingly and satisfyingly low-tech. A single performer, Valerie Berry, plays the role of three generations of Filipino women while Datu Arellano and Teta Tulay from Amino Shadowplay Collective provide backdrops with a simple overhead projector.
Written by Valerie Berry’s brother, Paschal Daantos Berry, and directed by Deborah Pollard, The Folding Wife, is a tale of a Filipino-Australian immigrant experience seen through the lives of Clara, Dolores and Grace. While stereotypes may sometimes be played up for comic effect, it’s an honest narrative mixed with both subtle and not-so-subtle visuals.
In an extended opening sequence, Arellano and Tulay manipulate Valerie Berry through a range of physical posturing and dress. One moment she’s in a nun’s habit choking on a cross, the next in her underwear with one red stiletto or kneeling with a target hastily taped on her head. Through the morphing, the familiar nun/whore paradox is evoked, sprinkled with military and domestic images. Repression, sexualization, empowerment – it’s all there and while these are not particularly new ideas, they are presented vividly and work to contextualize the concept of the “Folding Wife” – the resilient woman who bends and folds into whatever shapes her environment requires.
From here, the stories unfold and sometimes follow a linear trajectory. Projected chapter titles help set the scenes, as do various objects and liquids that pass under the overhead projector downstage, creating everything from window curtains, to the blood of childbirth. Paschal Berry’s writing is sprinkled with little gems - Grandmother Clara, stripped of her jewels, “a beggar at her own table” when Arthur, the Australian sheep-farmer, visits her house to court her daughter or the fact that Filipino men are “only present in anecdotes” and always absent in real life.
Valerie Berry plays all three women with a consistently strong presence, moving from introspection to simple comedy with conviction. Whether hamming up her grandmother’s religious devotion mixed with catty gossip, her mother’s disgust at the Australian women’s obsession with their baked goods and barbeques or her own disappointments as a child and resolve as an adult, to not fold into herself, she’s equally committed.
The immigrant experience is a well-trodden path in theatre and it can be difficult to find a unique voice within the theme. At its heart, The Folding Wife is about telling stories of cultural and cross-cultural experience, but it goes beyond the ordinary by using its basic elements like props, sound and writing well and never sinking into the self-indulgent.
Urban Theatre Projects and Anino Shadowplay Collective present
The Folding Wife
by Paschal Daantos Berry
Director Deborah Pollard
Venue: Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall
Dates/Times: Wed 26 - Fri 28 @ 7pm, Sat 29 @ 2pm and 7pm
Duration: 70 minutes no interval
Tickets: $25 / $18
Bookings: www.artshouse.com.au | 03 9322 3713
Part of the 2010 Next Wave Festival