Review: Corning Works ‘Happily Ever After’

Reviewed bu Jessica Neu

Not every theatrical experience begins with walking into a space filled with welcoming couches as your seat for the evening or the encouragement to “listen to the dresses” before you choose a couch section. However, that is precisely how the experience of Happily Ever After begins at The Space Upstairs in Highland Park. Presented by Corning Works and running through March 27th.

“Experience” is simply the best word I can use to capture this performance. The dresses that audiences are encouraged to listen to before the show are hung stage right and play various audio clips depicting women’s suffrage. The dresses remain throughout the show but are silenced. A representation of our ancestors, our relationship with the past, and a symbol that the notion of progress is one of fantasy.

The performance is artistry in motion representing the myriad challenges a woman encounters each day. There is noise in a woman’s life, even in silence and in darkness. Through movement, we watch consent, intimacy, monogamy, and bereavement become negotiated in a shared space.

There is great irony in the show’s title, as some of the vocal interludes relate to Disney princesses. Don’t all women dream of being a princess? What does that look like in like reality?

If you’re looking for a show that presents a Platonic singular Truth, this is not the show for you. This show is nuanced in hyper-textuality and layered in multiplicity. Not in a post-truth conspiratorial way but in the sense that each scene is so rhetorical and ripe for interpretation that I could see it each night and experience it differently. Each movement is so powerful and nuanced that I almost felt out of breath even though I sat idle. The technical dancing is commendable but plays a supporting role in the profound themes portrayed throughout.

I would be remiss to preach this show from my own vantage point. Every woman has their own story, thereby rendering a natural bias when viewing this performance. You can’t help as a female to metaphorically situate yourself somewhere in this performance. So with that, I will leave you, the reader, with the questions I grappled with through this experience as represented through sound and dance:

What does it mean to be a woman? What happens to the purity represented by the white wedding dress after we wed? Are women silenced? Stretched to their limits? In constant motion? Reaching out for the other, working, leaning into our experience? Are women Suffocating? What happens when we rest? How do we situate our identity? And ultimately, who is controlling a woman? What is the sacred nature and implications of our wedding vows? Is getting married akin to being kidnapped?

Happily Ever After challenges nearly every Westernized depiction or story of what a woman’s life should be and calls into question what a woman’s life actually is. This performance cannot singlehandedly rewrite a narrative. Still, it can serve as a dialogic space to begin a greatly needed discussion.

“I had to be responsible for you. I had to know your energy movement. Where is there room for another being there?” These words hauntingly played during a transition piece. As we are in a current historical moment watching women fight for a seat at the table and a voice among dominant hegemony, we must still question how a woman’s autonomy and identity are situated in the most vulnerable of moments and relationships.

Corning Works’ Happily Ever After has performances now through March 27th. For tickets visit: http://www.corningworks.org/upcoming-productions.html

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