Collective creation gives raucous voice and unforgettable shape to six marginalized women's lives
NOW YOU SEE HER by Lisa Karen Cox, Maggie Huculak, Raha Javanfar, Amy Nostbakken, Norah Sadava and Cheyenne Scott (Quote Unquote Collective/Nightwood Theatre/Why Not Theatre). At Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander). Runs to November 4. $10-$75. 416-975-8555, buddiesinbadtimes.com. See listing. Rating: NNNN
Near the start of Now You See Her we see Raha Javanfar, spotlit in the upper periphery of the playing space, assume the role of a siren-like MC and promise that we will witness the vanishing of six women.
Given the desperate tenor of this extraordinary creation from Quote Unquote Collective in collaboration with Nightwood Theatre and Why Not Theatre, that promise arouses as much dread as excitement: women do vanish, not through hocus-pocus but through currents of misogyny that circulate our policies, daily interactions and unchecked biases.
Weaving together a sextet of discreet micro-narratives authored by the performers and charged with illuminating the struggle of women against myriad forces of marginalization, Now You See Her should feel rigidly schematic. Instead it radiates wit, urgency and high theatricality, incorporating music, video and dance. Some of the characters are primarily mechanisms to illustrate some aspect of the play’s polemic, but most feel lived-in and imbued with arresting personal details.
Maggie Huculak plays a journalist receiving a lifetime achievement award that resembles a consolation prize in lieu of genuine respect and proper remuneration. Lisa Karen Cox plays a singing star who dazzlingly exposes the layers of artifice involved in her character’s performance of gender and race. Co-director Amy Nostbakken plays a devoted scientist treated as furniture by her male colleagues. (Nostbakken also plays a mean guitar and, at one point, lets loose a hair-raising Patti Smith soul-howl.) Cheyenne Scott plays a student who moves to Vancouver for love and education, only to stumble into the harrowingly precarious obscurity that looms over so many Indigenous women.
The insidious nature of patriarchy is inventively explored in scenarios throughout Now You See Her, though much of its lasting power lies in its music: Javanfar’s alluringly deadpan, rhythmically beguiling spoken-word history lessons Cox’s hyper-energized, stadium-ready pop theatrics or the climactic homage to singer Clare Torry, whose unforgettable improvised vocal performance on Pink Floyd’s The Great Gig In The Sky went uncredited for three decades.
Each ensemble member picks up an instrument to perform the tune with daring brio, ensuring that all these women are indeed seen and, perhaps even more importantly, heard.