Guns & Tampons / Living Memory-Living Absence
nytheatre.com review by Mark De Francis
June 15, 2007
Every seat gets a tampon. Sitting in a theatre packed with women and menstruation paraphernalia amongst maybe two other guys who look as scared as I do, I was tempted to think this was going be one of "those shows" about feminine things I could never hope to fathom. Not True. Hanalei Ramos brings together a fascinating collection of stories taken from diaries, interviews, and other documentation focusing on women in cases of objectification, degradation, and violence both emotional and physical which is as entertaining as it is enlightening and as uplifting as it is disturbing.
Guns and Tampons is a performance of various monologues. Some are tragic stories of abuse and rape while others are light and have a humorous tone to them. The greatest strength of these accounts is that they not only explore the motives behind the abusers but also the shame and self-degradation which woman in these situations impose upon themselves. Between these stories Ramos engages in several performance pieces that emphasize togetherness and sisterhood within the audience, which seems to be at the heart of her philosophy towards dealing with gender abuse. The show also features audience interaction and education (I am now skilled in the basic operation of a tampon for example) which adds fun to a show which could otherwise have been very depressing.
Ramos has fashioned a provocative performance piece and shows a talent for communicating a difficult message. She does, however, lack the polish of a stage actor and could stand to spend more time preparing her monologues to get the most of their provocative characters and tones (with the exception of her strong closing piece). Still, if a show where you throw a tampon at a stage can make a "guy's guy" such as myself feel moved and intrigued, then Hanalei Ramos is clearly in the right profession and I look forward to her future work.
Anida Yoeu Ali's movement and media collage entitled Living Memory/Living Absence is a bold and visceral work about the author's quest to reconnect with her fractured Cambodian roots while engaging the horrid legacy of the Khmer Rouge upon her people. Her explorations take the audience through a twisted series of emotions in search of the Apsara, or "heavenly nymphs," which exist as a force within all people.
The piece is free in form and Ali's movements are well suited to each scene of the work. She evokes delicacy, grace, power, and even horror with ease. In the standout scene of this show, she creates a terrifying image of the suffering and anger of human atrocity by contorting her physique into twisted forms. Her talent aids in her storytelling as she can make concepts like loss, despair, and loneliness appear clearly with just her physicality. Her presence as a speaker is lacking though. The poetry she recites is entirely unnecessary at times and begs the question as to why she would distract from such engrossing movement work.
She is however upstaged at many moments by some of the finest light and video design I have ever seen in any theatrical production. Video artist Masahiro Sugano and light designers Yasmeen Shorish and Giau Troung put together a series of images, which are guaranteed to never leave my mind. The video and animation act in concert with Ali's choices and often evoke strong kinesthetic reactions in the audience. A pumping heart made from barbed wire will remain my favorite image of this performance.
This piece is unfortunately plagued by several false endings, which occur at the end of powerful scenes in the first half of the work. Somehow, at about 45 minutes, the show is simply too long and taxes the audience with its relentlessly slow pace. The best moments are in the early going and rob the work of any climax or cathartic finale. Still, there is so much power and passion in Anida Yoeu Ali's performance and production that some simple rearranging would make this show a must-see event.