Zoofest: My Pregnant Brother and Entrance With Charge

Both these shows were presented as part of Montreal's Zoofest, an alternative arts festival meant to push the limits.

My Pregnant Brother by Johanna Nutter
Forget what you saw on Oprah. Thomas Beatie was not the first pregnant man. In fact, it was Joanna Nutter’s transgendered brother, James, who had that honour. In this innovative one-woman show, Nutter tells the true story of her hapless hippie mother, her younger sister, and their precarious lives growing up on the Main.

Our narrator is the strong one in the family and just when she decides to abdicate her caretaking role, her sister declares that she is a man and has her breasts removed. Nutter is forced not only to deal with this dramatic change, fumbling and stumbling with pronouns and introductions, but also must deal with her transgender brother’s emotional issues and, finally, her mother and brother’s estrangement.

With simple chalk lines, Nutter creates the Plateau’s grid of streets, complete with the mountain and cross on a chalkboard backdrop. The actor adds details and streets to her map as the story of her brother’s gender transition and pregnancy unfolds. Nutter weaves a touching tale with evocative detail to help the audience visualize the street corners she describes.

In addition to shedding light on some of the emotional issues a transgendered individual might face, the story also explores the feelings of family members.  Nutter delivers a humorous and poignant performance, with the birth of her niece in an East Van hospital as possibly the most beautiful moment. Yet, it is the final roadside tragedy that is by far the most heartrending, reminding the family of just how precious life is, whether in the body of a woman or man.

Johanna Nutter’s courageous one-woman show explores subject-matter that is both original and risky, putting a human face on what is usually relegated to the pages of tabloids. For a unique and entertaining theatre performance, look no further. This is storytelling at its best.

There are two more shows of My Pregnant Brother on Thursday and Friday.

Entrance with Charge – Two Girls Smoke a Cigarette in Only 30 Seconds

Labelled as “performance,” Entrance with Charge puts the spotlight on les Filles Follen, a Spanish duo who “decided to show what they really are: two pretty girls,” according to the Zoofest program. The mission of this festival is to offer “wild adventure and unique experiences,” but comedy is not a given in spite of being affiliated with Just For Laughs.

A nod to cabaret and the cigarette girls of the 1950s, the performance included plenty of cleavage, suggestive dancing, homo-erotic displays and simulated fighting. Obviously trained dancers, les Filles Follen were experimenting with what they could get away with based on their attractiveness. And while it’s true that the audience may have been less tolerant towards a pair of hairy middle-aged men doing the same routine, it might have provided some much needed comic relief.

The Spanish duo’s performance fell short of anything entertaining and instead served up little more than titillation. For a costume change, they pulled in a male member of the audience to help them zip up and recorded it on a web cam for the audience’s amusement. They walked through the audience striking arabesques in short skirts and high heels among the quiet, polite audience at the Café Cléopatra. I yawned a little too audibly when the performers were parading through spectators with cigarette boxes bearing the sign “We Are Pretty,” and then unexpectedly had a member of the duo at our table, attempting to stare me down.

The act was pure provocation, an experiment in which the audience served as guinea pigs. Les Filles Follen performed strictly to pull our strings, and although some people might enjoy paying to take part in their little experiment, I found it empty and artless.

These reviews have been cross-posted at Rover Arts.

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