Montreal Fringe: Hue Man & The Dysmorphia Diet

0 Posted by - June 20, 2014 - Features, Performance, Reviews

Hue Man: He Volution

An exploration of socially constructed male gender roles through puppetry and video art, Hue Man: He Volution is an interesting concept that doesn’t quite work.

The pre-show here includes a PowerPoint presentation about sexist terms that need to be retired, all of which pertain to concepts of masculinity. This is the closest the show comes to verbalizing any ideas, as the rest of the performance is silent puppetry, mime, and heavy-handed video, all set to a cheesy new-age score.

The puppet character, literally born from a box into a childhood documented entirely on video, struggles to define himself as an adult within the very limited options presented to him: The 9-to-5ing geek, the artist, the soldier, and so on, none of which end well for him.

While the issues taken up in Hue Man are important things to talk about, the non-verbal approach combined with the puppet’s limited expressiveness and the artist’s limited skills as a mime and filmmaker mean that these issues can only be touched on in the most superficial ways.

As a result, the audience is left wondering if the artist is commenting solely on the roles imposed on men in Western society or also on the broader context that constructs those roles to begin with.

In other words, it’s unclear if the thesis is that patriarchy hurts men too, or if it’s something at once more limited and sinister, and a more careful reworking of the show’s many elements could help clear that up.

Hue Man: He Volution plays at the Mini until June 22. Buy your tickets here.

The Dysmorphia Diet

Written and performed by Clay Nikiforuk, The Dysmorphia Diet is a darkly hilarious and all-too-true look at the insidious ways an eating disorder can creep up on a person. Despite some over-eager moments, Nikiforuk’s performance and material are both strong and frighteningly accurate.

Drawn from multiple people’s experiences, the narrative here avoids all the usual clichés — “it’s the media’s fault,” “it’s my mom’s fault,” “it’s fashion models,” and so on — and instead presents a much more common portrait of the myriad little things that can, one way or another, trigger or exacerbate an eating disorder.

The Dysmorphia DietIncluded here are the cumulative effects of internalized competitive structures, as well as “compliments,” “encouragement” and other unthinking comments from colleagues, acquaintances, and romantic partners, all amplified by a general sense of insecurity as they struggle to find their place in the world.

Nikiforuk’s skewering of detox programs in particular is on point. An all-too-common craze in gyms and yoga studios, with or without management’s encouragement, the vast majority of cleanses and detox plans are often little more than smoke screens for heavily disordered eating, featuring coded and potentially triggering language emphasizing cleanliness, purging, and purification.

Further, the sense of camaraderie among those who embark on these plans as a group often masks a huge amount of competitiveness within the group while excluding and belittling those who don’t participate.

Also noteworthy are the details that are frequently left out in ham-fisted mainstream accounts of eating disorders, such as the addictive sense of lightness and intense focus that comes after a certain amount of starvation, and the fact that recovery is a series of decisions made multiple times every day for life, rather than a one-and-done cure.

Nikiforuk’s depiction of the private hell that an eating disorder can very quickly become, from the sleepless nights spent obsessing over perceived failures to the eventual destruction of personal relationships, is powerful in and of itself, and straight up heartbreaking for anyone who has been there in any way.

The Dysmorphia Diet plays at the Mini until June 21 (tickets available here) and at the Toronto Fringe Festival from July 3-13.

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