The problem with Women From Mars’ Silent Reflections: A Clown-Noir Cabaret is that its two night run deprived many Washingtonians the joy of unleashing the veiled, inner feminist who longs to (rage, rage, rage) shove a whole cupcake in her mouth as one big middle finger to the botox-loving, fat-shaming Vanity Fairs of the world.
Fortunately for those of us who saw her do it, Francesca Chilcote as The Girl takes one for the team—triumphantly cramming it in all at once with nary a crumb to spare. And, she licks her fingers ravenously as if she’s just found her personal cocaine in the saccharine puff of creamy frosting.
Silent Reflections is an animated show, with a side of bitter satire that’s as classy as its monochromatic presentation. It is, indeed, silent (well, mostly). And, the actresses—Chilcote, Genevieve Durst (The Lover), and Dory Rebekah Sibley (The Mother)—do clown around. Faces painted white with heavy black eyeliner and bedecked in black/white attire, they pick apart what it means to be female today in short vignettes accentuated by music and brief film strips crafted to look like the silent flicks of yore. The full result is pure poetry.
Durst, Sibley, and Chilcote each portray three different persona a woman is expected to adopt in life. They firmly establish these, perched on black boxes in the opening minutes while slowly realizing they have an audience. A tussle follows over the coveted center seat (aka, the spotlight), and even though The Lover ultimately wins out, each character takes the stage individually to mime the often absurd ideals about, and expectations that come with, being a woman.
There is the sexual exploitation of the beauty, the sexualize-ation of the young, the (attempted) purification of the wife, and the responsible-ization of the mom. Oh, how quickly The Girl turns from tea-party goer to temptress with a little encouragement from media and the help of red duct tape.
Chilcote stands out for her ability to reconnect with the childish wonderment of Womanhood. But, I imagine for others, Sibley and Durst stand-out, depending on where you are in your personal journey. All are skilled at depicting the physical’s relationship to the emotional.
Despite the laughter—and just general high entertainment factor—the best point that Silent Reflections makes is not how easily identity gets distorted because of unkind words moonlighting as advice columns or news or tradition, but how we often choose to celebrate this distortion’s physical manifestation, proudly displaying it in fashion magazines, reality TV, films, music, etc…
As The Girl, The Lover, and The Mother gaze into mirrors puckering their lips and pinching their cheeks, a peppy, pre-recorded chant—whose buoyant tempo conceals a darkness—permeates the performance space: “Squeeze it, sculpt it, suck it in girl, but your men will give it thanks (blood clots, heat strokes…).” Funny. But actually really very sad. I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry.
Still, serious themes are, for me, always best served under the guise of comedy and Women From Mars’ silliness advances a somber conversation we’ve only just begun.
One minor grievance. The Unified Scene Theater’s space is tight, tiny, and all on one level, making visibility challenging for anyone beyond the first row. Women From Mars did a superb job negotiating this for some rather big physical movements, but smaller moments were lost to those in back.
Silent Reflections: A Clown-Noir Cabaret created by Echo Sibley, Dory Sibley and Francesca Chilcote of Women From Mars. Featuring Genevieve Durst, Francesca Chilcote, and Dory Rebekah Sibley. Performed January 12 and 13, 2016. Produced by Unified Scene Theater . Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.