Adelaide Festival 2017 Theatre Review: MDLSX

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 12.53.30 pmMDLSX


Where: AC Arts

Like the novel on which MDLSX is loosely based, this production takes us on a journey across borders with actress Silvia Calderoni. Although there is a production team behind her, this is undoubtedly a one-woman show, performed with intensity and high energy, as she describes her coming of age using films, narration, costume, camera, lights and music. Narrated in Italian, the translation is projected behind her, along with images from her past and immediate present using a small camera. 

The problem with borders is that they imply movement between here and there, from dark to light, beauty to beast, male to female. Whereas, like the protagonist of Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel Middlesex, it is somewhere in the middle that the real journey is taking place.

The story begins with a home movie of young Silvia singing karaoke – badly. The audience groans with embarrassment for the young off-key singer; perhaps our unease helps to establish an emotional response towards her story. Silvia’s body is stick thin, sinuous, compelling and repellent, vulnerable and confronting. Despite ‘on trend’ theatrical apparatus, the body is the story.

Silvia uncovers her body, parades it, flaunts it, covers it with hair, and highlights it with laser lights. We see, yet do not see what she is. We hear her story, sometimes in her own words, sometimes directly quoting from Eugenides’ novel. Raised as a girl, Silvia is oblivious to her double identity, until puberty began to exert a different message on her body.

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 12.51.48 pmMDLSX

Trying to work out who he is, the question ‘Don’t you think it would be easier to stay as you are?’, cuts to the core of this theatre. Who is she? What does it mean to be neither one gender or the other, when society expects exactitude? I am reminded of the title of Jeanette Winterson’s book Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, a question thrown at Winterson by her mother, regarding her sexuality. It seems that for those who don’t fit the mould, it is happiness and normality that are the polar opposites.

Calderoni enacts a conversation with his doctor, and includes quotes from Judith Butler and Paul Preciado on Queer Theory, but at heart, it is Silvia’s lived experience, not theory, that matters. Taking control of her life, Silvia cuts his hair short, dons masculine clothes and heads off to America, where she ends up in a strangely surreal underwater transgender peep show. Which perhaps is not far removed from what we have come to watch.

What goes mostly unmentioned, and perhaps attests to Silvia’s strong family life, is the real danger of being intersexual. We glimpse it, as she uses a dictionary to follow the meaning of a word seen in her medical notes, stopping briefly at “hermaphrodite” and ending with “monster”. But this same day I have been confronted by Twitter images showing the filmed murder of an intersex person. And in Wikipedia, I find a long list of people murdered for their ambiguous gender status: “one transgender person is murdered every three days”. Society demands absolutes, it wants borders, and it wants clear-cut distinctions. This lively, brave and enjoyable performance reminds us that there is no such thing. 

4 out of 5 stars

– Maggi Boult

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s