Photo – Ian Douglas
Bronx Gothic is a show you come away from thinking you might never need to see anything else, ever. A co-production by Okpokwasili and her partner Peter Born, Bronx Gothic is written and performed by Okwui Okpokwasili while Born is responsible for direction, lighting, set and music. The performance by Okpokwasili as a raw and generous as anything you’ll ever see: she turns herself inside out and holds nothing back in going to the ‘nth degree’, yet she, and the show, remain complete and contained.
The first half an hour or so is a drawn out experience where the audience is brought into something ritualistic and wordless with a power all its own; with her body Okpokwasili creates a container for the energy in the space, she trembles and shudders as though she’s possessed, although the possession is coming from within. You’re watching a woman moving in an apparently private way yet it is something which insists on forming a sense of connection with every other person in the room; you’re in there with her, like it or not.
The electronic rhythms are repetitive for long periods and then shift into a loud beat box rhythm and eventually into a soundscape of children in a city playground; the urban nature of the setting is unmistakable. The story then evolves through a pair of adolescent girls writing notes to each other in class; the dynamic between them is as intense as anything you’d expect and more. These are poor African American girls living in a world of danger, early sexualisation and racism, and the expressions of their divisive experience of self and internalized hatred of being black has an impact that is unforgettable. Okpokwasili goes deeply into their love and then loathing of each other and self, with a text that crackles and shimmers; as well she sings songs of acute delicacy.
Despite the inherently political themes of the work there is no residual feeling of having been part of something that means more to the performer than the audience, never a message, even though in a Q&A afterwards last week Okpokwasili was open about the fact that she doesn’t think about an audience when she’s writing.
Bronx Gothic is an extraordinary experience of collective emotion. Honesty doesn’t come any more honest. If you can get to see this, you must.
Melbourne Festival and Arts House in association with Performance Space 122 present
Director Peter Born
Venue: Arts House | 521 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne
Dates: 8 – 12 October 2015
Tickets: $39 – $25
Bookings: 03 9322 3713 | 136 100