Brothers and Sisters and Motherfuckers
nytheatre.com review by Anthony Johnston
December 15, 2010
Jibz Cameron's alter-ego, Dynasty Handbag, could be called a clown character—a harsh, loud-mouthed, hilarious, edgy, grotesque beauty queen sporting a "homeless-chic" vintage '80s look. She has played all over New York City and beyond, and this new piece is a world premiere Dynasty Handbag Holiday Special.
The theatre at P.S. 122 is mostly bare. Four large white projection screens hang down into the space. There is a small round table and a rather pathetic looking Christmas tree. In Brothers and Sisters and Motherfuckers, Dynasty Handbag hosts a Christmas dinner for her siblings: two sisters and a brother, all played by Ms. Handbag of course, either live or on video. (Mother and Grandmother make appearances too!)
At the top of the show, an old lady’s voiceover in darkness comically welcomes us to this story with awkwardly funny rhyming couplets. The lights come up and the four screens assault our senses with bright images of a white suburban winter wonderland, with festive sleigh bells underscoring. The images of snowy homes, a snowman, the bare trees covered in snow give us a sense of familiarity, nostalgia, and joy. This beautiful opening was one of my favorite moments of the entire piece.
If Dynasty Handbag's previous work and the beauty of the first moments of this new piece are any indication of what to expect, then Brothers and Sisters and Motherfuckers should be a hilarious and moving video/performance piece. Unfortunately, I was disappointed by what followed.
Dynasty enters in a sleeveless retro red jumpsuit. She crosses the stage in characteristic moody and self-deprecating manner. She answers phone calls from her siblings and mother, who show up on the screens around her. Mother appears as only an extreme close-up of her mouth, teeth covered with bits of green salad. Dynasty’s younger sister is a valley girl with seven purses who just wants her family to be “normal,” her brother is a strait-laced military man who can’t understand Dynasty’s vegetarianism, and their eldest sister is an extremely talkative, oblivious nerd in a Raggedy-Anne-esque wig.
Although there are some funny moments from these characters (notably the youngest sister), for the most part there is too much speaking over one another and their dinner table dialogue is just so banal and repetitive—which may be a very accurate depiction of most family dinners, but certainly not one which you’d want to sit in on. It would have been nice to have some clarity to help us see who these people really are and how they truly interact with each other. It’s nearly impossible to know where to focus and I found myself rarely paying any attention to the real live Dynasty on stage—with so much going on in all of the video screens to distract me. In all of the hubbub, Dynasty’s natural charm and artistry as a performer was lost.
Although hard to disseminate, there is a vague plotline woven throughout the chaos as well. After Dynasty and her three siblings begin their holiday meal, they all eventually become sick and, as each of them has brought a dish of their own to the dinner, wonder who is to blame for the malady. They point the finger at each other and a fight ensues. Somehow, the urn containing their grandmother’s ashes is broken and it seems that along with a cloud of ashy dust that’s released into the room, so is their wicked grandmother’s soul. Grandma has returned to frame Dynasty for poisoning her family, and reveal that now that they have all been infected—they will never be well again. The storyline could definitely use some work. There aren’t enough specifics as to why any of them would want to murder their family this holiday season, or any indication that there is any meaning or redemption in the fact that Grandma has returned from beyond the grave. As is, there is little to make us care about Dynasty or her family, and nothing to keep us interested in what’s going to happen next.
Overall, Brothers and Sisters and Motherfuckers seems more like a sketch of a show than a completed idea. This may not be her best work, but Jibz Cameron’s unique perspective and techno-savy way of telling stories will continue to make her an artist to watch for. I am sure the character of Dynasty Handbag, while perhaps not best suited for hosting family holiday dinner parties, will be back in a more streamlined and entertaining milieu very soon.