BOY CULTURE REVIEW: *** out of ****
It's not every day that I'm invited to the U.S. stage debut of a Pedro Almodovar superstar, so how could I refuse when offered the chance to see Traveling Lady, a multi-media presentation by Colombian visual artist/director Jessica Mitrani and Spanish film icon Rossy de Palma? Answer: I couldn't, and I didn't.
After initially bobbling the invite for me plus-one (sorry, Nathaniel!), I showed up fresh from a full day at New York Comic Con and a quick visit with Don Bachardy to find a long line outside FIAF Florence Gould Hall (55. E. 59th). A passer-by seemed nonplused when I told her we were waiting for a show. “A theatrical performance???” she sputtered. It was as if she knew what was in store for us; we didn't, however, so I went in thinking we were seeing a play while my companion Jason though it would be a movie. We were both kinda right.
A part of FIAF's Crossing the Line 2014 series, Traveling Lady turned out to be a singular experience. I wish I had seen it both nights it played to get a firmer grasp on it, but I did divine its staunchly feminist roots, using as a jumping-off point the 19th-Century travels of journalist Nellie Bly. The show made use of a booming female voice-over, outstandingly dazzling projections, a somewhat goofy, talking, 8-foot dress with no body in it (voiced with an insinuating authority by Joan Juliet Buck), original music and all-too-brief appearances by de Palma in the flesh, lip-synching to her pre-recorded recitations.
De Palma plays more than Bly; it quickly becomes obvious she is embodying various female archetypes. In so doing, she only had to appear briefly, allowing her unique visage to do all the talking. She merely had to stand there in order to give the show a twisted depth. Her presence is so arresting it was shocking later to meet her and see that she herself isn't 8 feet tall.
The show lagged when it became too esoteric for its own good, but I felt was saved from being a parody of NYC performance art excess thanks to its tongue-in-cheek humor. While it's true enough that some of its odder visuals would have baffled the real Bly (who once feigned insanity in order to explore the depravity of early insane asylums), I felt the show's broad send-up of branding and marketing were spot-on and LOL hilarious. I was also very taken with the show's tangential embrace of passages from the writings of Gertrude Stein (Ida: A Novel), which gave perfect voice to some of Mitrani's visuals.
All in all, Mitrani and de Palma's collaboration seemed a match made in heaven.
Afterward, we were invited to a champagne toast, at which de Palma was mobbed and a child was given a birthday cake. When I met her and congratulated her on the show, de Palma rasped in her wonderful way, “Wasn't it great???” and enthusiastically posed for photos.