A Woman Of No Distinction
nytheatre.com review by Reagan Wilson
August 16, 2010
Accompanied by only a black chair, a black table, and a floating white brain, the evening's storyteller, Claire Fleury (writer, performer, and co-director), takes the audience on a distinctly thought-provoking journey. The story being told is that of "a woman" who lives her life observing and adopting the actions and reactions of others. A woman "who has no name because she could not make a choice with her whole heart, which may be the result of her not having a heart, but only a string of failed relationships." The physical description of this woman isn't labored on as the audience may envision their own lead actress seated at the empty black table center stage (Robert van de Horst's simple set design, lends much to the imagination). The woman's characteristics, or "qualities" as Fleury calls, them are described in great detail, the most notable being her ability to "...spot without fail anyone who has arranged their qualities to their own liking." It is the qualities of others that the woman replicates daily, in the same way a fashionista changes her wardrobe to accommodate the current mainstream idea of what is "in", the woman changes her likes and dislikes hoping to capture the happiness and varying emotions displayed by those she observes—an observance of "the perfect state of being." These deep thoughts are humorous, as audience chuckling confirms, but when the woman is phoned by a man or woman (as in a choose-your-own-adventure story, you may determine the sex of the other character), the woman becomes engaged in making a series of choices and Fleury becomes engulfed in the difficult task of telling a straight story, all the while still trying to highlight the possibilities.
The storyteller gets sidetracked by the existential many times, but the carefully calculated distractions are only part of the equation. Add in a brain slowly rising on stage, and disjointed dance movements that slowly become more fluid, and music that was once distorted slowly becomingly distinct, and it is clear that Fleury and co director Jantien Koenders want to tell us something. Unlike many modern theatre pieces, the message being sent isn't disguised, but the lack of a character to become invested in as an audience member, left me less interested in the message being sent. Or as my theatre-loving friend inquired after the event, "Um, why did she want to tell that story? What was the point?" These two simple questions seem to present the biggest challenge for any artist. The answers themselves can be as complicated as an Agatha Christie killer's painstaking attempts at masking a murder, or as simple as a woman choosing to make choices based off her own impulses. In this case, let's choose to go with the simple. Simply put, A Woman of No Distinction is a tale of possibilities told simply because the artists want the audience to explore the realm of possibility as applied to life. If you can accept the simple, then you'll find yourself (as did many audience members) head in hand, similar to France's famed Le Penseur (The Thinker), allowing your mind to absorb the tale that is being told. Less a one-woman show and more a one-woman monologue, this one-sided conversation may not change lives, but at least for better or worse you'll have something to think about for the rest of the day.