CabaretComedyDramaFestivalsNew YorkReview

Decolonizing My Vagina – New Ohio Theatre, New York

Writer: Cristina Pitter

Director: Jordana De La Cruz

Reviewer: Carrie Lee O’Dell

Part of the New Ohio Theatre’s ICE Factory Festival, Fridays On ICE is a late night salon series featuring work “more typically… perform[ed] in nightclubs, bars, and private apartments” than in more traditional theatrical venues. Each night of the series features a different artist. The August 4 salon, Decolonizing My Vagina, is a performance piece that meshes poetry, music, dance, and video as writer/performer Cristina Pitter reflects on a series of sexual and romantic encounters from her past.

Decolonizing My Vagina doesn’t boast a traditional narrative; rather, it’s a series of vignettes, stories of men with whom Pitter has shared some degree of sexual chemistry. There’s a married man in the UK whom she travels across the Atlantic to visit, only for him not to show in their arranged meeting place. There’s a man she meets at a wedding, a spectacular dancer with whom she carries on a torrid affair even after he marries another woman. There’s the man, maybe another married man, with whom she engages in a sort of dance in a small kitchen, the two of them using close quarters as an excuse to bump into and navigate around each other. In between these stories, Pitter breaks into song or choreographed movement. Throughout the performance, vocalist Starr Busby sits cross-legged on the stage, sound mixing board in front of her, providing background music or vocals, or sometimes a sounding board for Pitter’s stories.

This performance washes over the viewer rather than drawing them in. This is not a bad thing. One senses that Pitter’s primary goals are to evoke specific emotions and revel in sensory details—the story is the vehicle for these things. For this reason, Decolonizing My Vagina brings to mind work like Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf; calling it a play or even a performance art piece doesn’t really address the way that Pitter and Busby use movement, music, and poetry to appeal to the audience’s senses. The use of video, in which we watch Pitter tell the longest story of the night, doesn’t really make sense. She is such a gifted performer that this segment would be much stronger live—video doesn’t add anything and feels like video for video’s sake. At the end of the night, Pitter reveals that all of these stories are about white men and she muses on why, as a woman of color, she is so attracted to white men. This information would serve the show well earlier in the evening, making it a more cohesive whole rather than a series of related anecdotes.

This piece is still a lyrical and thought-provoking work, but placing what is essentially the thesis at the end of the show makes it feel like this is an early iteration of a work that will continue in its development. Fridays On ICE is a good environment for a work that may be in its earlier stages, as it offers a chance to reach new audiences and to simply put a work on its feet in a lower-stakes environment. This makes the conceit behind Fridays On ICE a fresh and welcome addition to the ICE Factory Festival’s programming. The bar at the New Ohio offers half-price drinks after the show and the audience is encouraged to stick around to drink and mingle. Decolonizing My Vagina is a work with a future; hopefully Fridays On ICE can help kick-start that.

Reviewed on 4 August 2017

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