Thursday, October 18, 2018

"Folk Incest": a new Juliana F. May ensemble at Abrons

Molly Poerstel dancing in Juliana F. May's Folk Incest
(photo: Ian Douglas)

In FOLK INCEST, five women interrogate seemingly unrepresentable subject matters including the Holocaust, sexual trauma, and the fetishization of young girls. As pop cultural references, genres, and bodily traumas compress into each other, the work’s biting humor offers catharsis, simultaneously critiquing and supporting abstraction. (from publicity for Juliana F. May's Folk Incest) 

Disorientation. It starts with being directed into one of the drab rooms at Abrons Arts Center not usually used as a venue for performance.

Once there, the audience for Juliana F. May's new, short ensemble--
Folk Incest--sits in a single row around the perimeter of the room. Last night, May drew a particularly chatty, lively group with a bunch of friends even posing for a cellphone photo before, strangely, everyone suddenly piped down. I looked around to see if there something signaled this quieting. If so, I couldn't detect it. Eventually, the lights lowered.

Then a woman appeared--amazing Molly Poerstel--seated in a chair near one of two doors to the corridor. A gentle light fell upon her, a marking that told us she was not really one of us. Or maybe she was. One of us. Plus.

She held a few sheets of paper. She began to read from them...or try to speak with great, forceful difficulty...and I rapidly became so engrossed in what I heard that I don't even recall if she was really glancing at the paper. Poerstel's monologue turned into a tour de force utilizing dexterous mental and vocal ability, beginning with stammering and sputtering, spinning out into something that...oh, I don't know...maybe an exorcist should be brought in to handle. Secrets blurted, profanities barked, surfaces erupting with the long-buried dead. Searing. Scorching. It felt of the moment.

In time, other women appeared in the space--Leslie Cuyjet, Tess Dworman, Lucy Kaminsky, Rebecca Wender, eventually joined by Poerstel. Their big, ungainly, willful, scattered movements smack away any sense that they will behave, or that we can relax, or that they don't belong there. Vengeful energies Poerstel's monologue unleashed, perhaps. Later, there came a wiping-off of makeup, a baring of breasts, a flurry of words sometimes tripping out too quickly to catch, an incredibly elaborate performance of something folksong-ish that, once again, made a viewer marvel at performers' abilities to memorize and recall.

I take the "folk" aspect of this to allude to commonality, and that is something we are certainly coming to grips with as we deal with #MeToo revelations and other testimonies of trauma. Traumatic experience and its consequences are common, not rare, one-off incidents happening to people we do not know. They happen to people we know. They happen in our families. They happen to us. They happen with such frequency to make us question the environments in which we should seek safety and solace. They are common, shared among us like the air we breathe, toxic and injurious to individuals and, ultimately, to all.

And they are festering under the skin and in the bones of the art we choose to call abstract.

Seating is limited, and remaining shows are sold out. But if there's a waiting list, Folk Incest is worth a try to get in.

Folk Incest continues through this Saturday, October 20, with performances at 7:30pm. For information, click here.

Abrons Arts Center
466 Grand Street (at Pitt Street), Manhattan
(map/directions)

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