SODAworks (Uferstudios, Dec. 4 – 18, 2014)
Part 2 (Or, My God is a Drunken Housewife)
One week later, on a rainy Wednesday, I headed back to Uferstudios for the last “SODA Work”… and I’m really glad I did, because Helena Dotto’s Abrahamic Wholeness (or my god is better than yours) was by far my favorite. It discusses religion broadly, humorously and poignantly at the hands of a performer who (as the program tells us) was raised Catholic but is now agnostic – apparently Helena dislikes religion but still likes it when her parents prey for her.
Upon entering the space we are separated into lines for males and females, and either slapped with a colored sticker (blue, red or yellow) or simply waved through. The first receiving room is plain black, with colored tape lines on the floor corresponding to our stickers, and roughly representing the layout of church pews separated by an aisle. An authoritative British voice politely orders us to stand on our colored lines, then sternly directs certain individuals to take a step back, for instance “all females standing on the blue line who are wearing male garments,” or “all males standing on the red line who have been divorced.” Some groups are also told to bow repeatedly, or to assume the prayer position. Those without stickers (herded into a white box-shape taped onto the floor) are exempt from such instruction and simply asked to hold hands and chant “wooOOO” a few times. Soon we are herded – line by line – into a larger, pure white room for the main event.
In short, Dotto’s performance is a morphing, writhing caricature of worship. And it’s exceptionally clever, entertaining and strange. The main character is Abraham or maybe even God… either way, Helena re-writes Him as some sort of eccentric, alcoholic housewife. Then there is the archangel Gabriel (Josh Rutter, who doubles as sound designer), dressed in a blue unitard decorated with puffy white clouds. Dotto whines and stomps around in ridiculous heels and pink rollers in her hair, calling for Gabriel to sooth her every aggravation; he transports her to different places on stage, replaces her masochistically high heels with fuzzy slippers, brings her three adorable stuffed pigs as a distraction, and ultimately feeds her alcohol and pills to dull her pain.
Overall, Dotto is an riveting performer whose whole body comes alive when she uses her voice. Sound design is handled delicately by Rutter, ranging from subtle diegetic sounds to creepy and overwhelming voice alterations to ironic electro fit for a biblical dance party. As audience members we start off as cattle, then became voyeurs, then the crowd in a cheesy talk show. A few people even become guilt-tripped sons and daughters as Helena shoves a microphone in their faces pleading, “Don’t you love me, daaaarling?” The warped matriarchal-Abraham character spirals further and further into desperation. You could read her as religion itself, desperate to retain followers in an evolving society, but also as a devout worshipper, clinging to the existence of God as comfort.
Though I enjoyed all three of my sticker-earning adventures at SODA Works, Dotto was the only artist that later had me trying to verbally recreate the entire performance to my boyfriend in a single breath – that’s usually how I can tell that I like something.