nytheatre.com review by Wendy Remington Bowie
June 10, 2011
Watching Aviary, Brendan Regimbal and Samara Naeymi’s creation at the Incubator Arts Project, is an incredibly and surprisingly sensual experience. As you enter the theater, the air is perfumed with incense. A moody, impressionistic video montage plays in several framed video screens. Soft lighting illuminates a space that implies both Victorian sitting room and Middle Eastern boudoir. As you find your seat, either lounging on cushions or seated in chairs, you can pour yourself a glass of wine and settle in to be awash with magical images, music, and heightened language. Prepare to be told a story by the master.
Aviary uses the relationships of two sets of women—Scheherazade, legendary story teller of 1,001 Arabian Nights, and her sister and companion Dunyzade; and friends Lady Isabel Burton and Lady Jane Digby—to explore aspects of femininity, love, possession, and loss. The four women exist in a dream-like space where time and setting overlap, which creates a rich impressionistic landscape in which to float ideas and images. The juxtaposition of such seemingly different worlds, that of Victorian women and Scheherazade’s perilous daily challenge to win her next day by telling a fantastic story, brings into relief the similarities and highlights the universality of the themes they explore.
The birdcage-like set is minimal, but highly effective and evocative. Two poles run from floor to ceiling and the actors, particularly Seraphine Naeymi as Scheherazade, use breathtaking and riveting pole gymnastics to add an additional dimension and yet another, more modern layer to the themes. The costumes are a brilliant deconstruction of Victorian gowns and harem clothing. Two video screens play a collage of images during the piece and a rich soundscape plays in the background.
All four characters are highly dimensional and faceted. Naeymi’s unexpectedly vulnerable Scheherazade deeply and unapologetically loves a man who is willing to execute her every evening. Vonia Arslanian is captivating as Dunyzade, Scheherazade’s fiercely protective yet sometimes starkly pragmatic sister. Averyn Mackey’s beautiful, almost innocent Lady Isabel Burton is grappling with the loss of her very public husband, the translator of 1,001 Arabian Nights, and her ambivalence about remaining in his shadow. Kate Hurley deftly balances Lady Jane Digby’s iconoclasm with her pain as she anesthetizes her broken heart with her many lovers. The characters land in no stereotype or generalization, but firmly in the land of real women who can thoroughly believe in both sides at once: Women who have questions to wrestle with rather than solutions to offer.
Going in, I knew very little about these four historical women but it is clear that they have captivated the imaginations of the creators. Though I didn’t know the back story, I felt like I met four fully realized characters, and the ideas they are grappling with are so universal that it wasn’t a detriment. Rather than proffering any point of view, I left Aviary full of food for thought.