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Our Modest Utopia: Seeing She She Pop’s Testament with my Real-Life Father

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Shanai Matteson, co-producer of Salon Saloon,shares her perspective on Thursday night’s performance of Testament by […]

Me and my dad

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Shanai Matteson, co-producer of Salon Saloon,shares her perspective on Thursday night’s performance of Testament by She She PopAgree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

“I only know two people here,” My dad declared after scanning the crowd that had assembled for She She Pop’s Testament, a deconstruction of King Lear that I’d promised to write about on behalf of Salon Saloon, a monthly show I help produce.

You know two people here?” I asked skeptically (the man lives in Moose Lake and is far from a regular at Walker performances).

“Yeah, I know two people here.” He paused, “What do you think the odds are that I’d be seated right next to them?”

“Next to who?” I looked around dumbly for familiar faces.

“Next to the only two people I know here!” He grinned, and I realized he was referring to his daughters seated beside him. My sister and I have both heard this joke a hundred times, but if my dad is King of anything, it’s the recurring wisecrack.

I invited my dad and my sister to see Testament with me because I thought they might help me get perspective on the show, an experimental piece about father-daughter relationships. Family conflict, sibling rivalry, identity, inheritance, love– all juicy topics we rarely discuss in our family– would be deconstructed on stage! I told them before the theater grew dark that I was sorry if this made them uncomfortable.

“We are not actors. Instead, we give ourselves and others interesting tasks to fulfill and solve them in public on stage.” – She She Pop

Testament is a challenging performance. It asks a lot of its audience. It begins with the women of She She Pop suggesting that we (the audience) play the part of King Lear’s entourage, drawing a thread between Shakespeare’s tragedy and what we experience in the theater-space they’ve created, a kind of platform for collective public negotiation. As promised, they bring out their real life fathers, dressed sharply in sweater-vests and button-down shirts, and proceed to spend the next two hours negotiating the conditions of their relationships. Sometimes this is hilarious, other times uncomfortable or heartbreaking, but it always seems they’re on the cusp of a monumental transformation,“the changeover of generations.” And it seems we’re on that cusp too, all of us, though we’re never sure when it will happen.

In this space, King Lear isn’t a Monarch in search of the most deserving heir to bestow his fortune upon, but an ordinary man terrified of retirement. And his daughters? They aren’t opportunistic quarreling siblings, but ordinary adults trying to negotiate their own identities amid the prospect of an aging parent in need of care.

Speaking for King Lear‘s Cordelia (the tongue-tied, banished little sister), and perhaps for herself too, one of the women of She She Pop confesses, “He wanted me to take care of him, but I refused to compete.”

Looking at it this way, you can begin to identify with the struggles Lear’s daughters went through to deal with their old man and his bizarre way of divvying up the family real estate. This thread between Lear and our deconstructed/reconstructed Royal Court continues to get tangled. She She Pop carefully reveals the often-conflicting definitions of respect, vulnerability, love and forgiveness that transpire between fathers and daughters, taking the audience through the process they took to engage their fathers in the development of Testament. It’s a creative project for which at least one of the elderly gentlemen expresses reservations, protesting their depiction as frail and needy old men, while trying to speak candidly about their frailty and neediness.

What I loved about this performance was that these roles are not so much “performed” as they are “negotiated.” Throughout the two hours we spent together in the theater there were moments of pause, when the entire cast came together to collectively brainstorm new themes for exploration, inventing their own hilarious methods of measuring the immeasurable. Though much of it was absurd, it felt oddly familiar, like the conversations in my head when my parents come to visit.

Testament felt immediate and important, and not just because my father was seated beside me in the theater. For years I’ve been watching my parents age at what seems like an increasingly fast clip. Unlike Lear or the fathers of Testament, my parents have no material wealth to speak of, so they hardly speak of it. What does inheritance mean when you’re no longer talking about material wealth? When does the changeover of generations happen when it seems that nothing changes but the balance of overwhelming responsibility?

That was one of the biggest questions that Testament raised in my mind, especially during the gut-wrenching storm scene, which I won’t spoil for you in a blog post. I’ll just say that after intense negotiations, the daughters raise a white flag, confronting the inevitable deterioration of their fathers and promising to witness this transformation with compassion – even laughing at the same jokes told over and over again.

I might have cried, but by this point I was holding my breath, trying not to let my own father know that I was picturing his eventual decrepitude. Was he thinking of this too? Was he asking himself, “would my daughters care for me if I got sick?” It’s something we’ve never talked about.

At the bar

After the show was over, the three of us went out for a drink. It was hard to think of what to say, I was still reeling from the performance. Halfway through Testament one of the fathers talks about his “modest utopia,” a Corbusier-inspired modular apartment that can be attached directly to the kitchen of his daughter’s flat. It would have everything he needs -“Autonomy. Provisions. Social Contact.”

I asked my dad if he could tell me about his utopia, a place where he’d have everything he needs to grow old and be cared for by his children, if it came to that.

“I don’t think about that.”

“Why not?”

“I hope I won’t have to. I feel like we’re all making these negotiations all the time. In our heads, but not together. Not in public.”

“Maybe it’s time we start.”