IMPRESSIONS: Sibyl Kempson / 7 Daughters of Eve Theatre & Performance Company at The Chocolate Factory Theater
October 31, 2021
The Chocolate Factory Theater
THE SECURELY CONFERRED, VOUCHSAFED KEEPSAKES OF MAERY S.
Performances by: Dee Dorcas Beasnael, Sibyl Kempson, Brian Mendes, Victor Morales, Crystal Wei, Oceana James, and others.
Sonic staging by: Chris Giarmo
Songs by: Graham Reynolds
Sibyl Kempson’s / 7 Daughters of Eve Theatre & Performance Company’s THE SECURELY CONFERRED, VOUCHSAFED KEEPSAKES OF MAERY S. expels flashes of narrative through a collage of stop-motion images, stick puppetry, and song in film. The pieces of storytelling are like dismembered body parts of beings that doctors stitched together to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. The surrealist work rummages through a wooden box safeguarding a woman’s history. Even at moments when the narrative seems lost for words, one never loses sight of the true meaning; the movements across the screen behave as an escape ladder. The joyous dance flickers from the film to my mind and vice versa.
The story begins with a history lecture by a professor (Sibyl Kempson) wearing glasses and a gray and brown bob wig. This woman behind a podium with her quizzical facial expressions and body language is reminiscent of the silent film era and old greats such as Mabel Normand, Marion Byron, and Anita Garvin. The lecturer’s voice is heard as she speaks to the audience, but her mouth does not move. With a slight and quick adjustment of expectations, one might consider photo albums our parents and grandparents kept and how the collection of images, moments frozen in time, tells the stories of our past.
Pictures with new poses change their position on-screen in time with vocal inflections — another form of music composition that guides the story along. As Maery (Dee Dorcas Beasnael) is introduced to the frame, she holds a wooden box tight. The lecturer asks for the box to present its contents to the class. Maery wraps herself around the box, holding it closer to her chest. The wooden box becomes more than a prop, an important character in the telling of this story, and I wonder if the reveal of the contents inside would be akin to the opening of Pandora’s Box. With no success, the lecturer continues to tell the story of Maery from the beginning of her life as illustrations of vignette portraits move about the screen.
When she was a young girl she heard footsteps rustling the leaves in the woods. A furry creature, like the mythic Bigfoot, takes heavy steps through the leaves as it approaches her window. Centuries pass, and we see Maery dressed as a warrior and huntress in an armored breastplate with animal pelts and a sword, in Gothic period dresses, and finally in contemporary clothing seated by a fire in upstate New York. The opening of the box reveals items that have been collected over time and their relationship to the many lives of Maery. One item revealed is the fur, perhaps the big-footed creature, which elicits sense-memory as she touches it and holds it in her hands.
What is most interesting is the collage of storytelling forms: oral, photo albums, puppetry, music, and film. The animated images in the foreground converse with the changing backdrop, thus keep us informed throughout the journey across a changing world map. We sense how this woman, and her seven daughters who look like her, existed through time in the liminal space represented on screen.
While the expectation of seeing a “formal dance show” was not met, it is worth seeing how dance can be seen and felt in an abstract form. Here, however abnormal it may appear, the body of work created by Sibyl Kempson / 7 Daughters of Eve Theatre & Performance Company is a wonderful Frankenstein of artistic skills. The disfigured and still images and sounds playfully dance in my mind until today.