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What Becomes You--Who Is That Masked Man?

When a masked Aaron Raz Link emerged from a black door upstage swaddled in a white drape over white pants, the Dresser seated in the front row of the black box theater at the University of Maryland's Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on February 5, 2008, knew she could not pull out her writing implements and take notes. What Becomes You, the multimedia performance piece conveyed through the techniques of physical theater was advertised in the Center's Take Five, a new interactive and informal, free-to-the-public series, as an exploration of the masks we wear, the roles we play, and how we know what's real. Sex, gender, treachery, and puppets were the components of this one-man show about the performer's transition from female to male.

WHAT WAS UNDER THE MASK?

Most likely the Dresser now has your attention, but suspects the subject matter has not fully penetrated so she will go back to the entrance of the performer to talk about his mask. Made most likely of plaster of Paris, the white mask covered the performer's skull and had openings for the eyes. It exposed his lips and bearded face so that we in the audience knew this character to be a man in actuality if his mask was fully removed.

Stepping back, before the Dresser and other audience members entered the black box, the question arose (at least in the Dresser's mind) as to what exactly did she and everyone else expect? A freak show, perhaps?

The costume and mask Raz Link chose addressed this anticipation fully and immediately. He looked like an alien with his gleaming white plaster of Paris skull and something about the voluminous drape made him looked deformed. The shock of the costume was followed by Raz Link breaching the fourth wall--he walked off his staging area right into the audience and mirrored the anxiety some of us were feeling because we were sitting exposed in front row or aisle seats. Our exposure became his exposure.

After all, how does one talk about a radical surgery and treatment that changes your sexual parts from female to male? Well, how about head on and making no bones about it? Once he got help from an audience member who accompanied him back to the stage, he began to reveal himself. When he took off the drape, the Dresser's jaw hit her lap. He had uncovered a set of oversized breasts. The Dresser could not remind herself that this performer was a graduate of the Dell'Arte International School of Physical Theatre and therefore a bona fide clown. AaronRazLink.jpgAnd yes, the breasts were balloons held in a body stocking he was wearing but no, the Dresser was trapped in the potent image of feminine sexuality.

THE BOOK AS AUTHORITY

OK, the Dresser asks you to back up once again to another view of the performer entering the stage. This time she wants you to see that he is carrying something that turns out to be a book with a reading light attached to it. What is this book? On the stage it is a symbol of his authority--it gives him the text for this performance and expresses his mastery of knowledge over an extremely difficult subject. He in fact is the author, actually the co-author with his feminist scholar mother Hilda Raz of this book that bears the title What Becomes You.RazLink.jpg

Suffice it to say that his mother (through a video interview) is a player in this coming out story. Although the Dresser is tempted to enter the labyrinth of mother child symbology, she will demur for now in favor of a short discussion about Raz Link's investment in physical theater and Commedia dell'arte. After the show, the Dresser talked by chance to a woman who turned out to be the performer's entrée to Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. Karen Bradley is the Director of Graduate Studies in Dance at the University of Maryland and the next day, Raz Link was going to participate in her graduate seminar on the subject of puppets and the Commedia dell'arte. Being lucky enough to hear this discussion, the Dresser more fully understands how remarkably well suited physical theater is for Aaron Raz Link whose whole life has been about how to find a way to be comfortable in the body he was born into and the one he chose for himself.

THE BODY AS CIRCUMSTANCE

Commedia dell'arte is about the human condition in all its extremes and counterbalances. It's a ying-yang world of beauty and ugliness, money and poverty, strength and weakness and many other pairings of opposites. As Raz Link pointed out to Bradley's students, in the Commedia no one dies or starves, no one's social position ever changes but everyone from the lowliest servant to all powerful noble is capable of anything. Raz Link also says the stock characters of the Commedia--Pulcinella (also sometimes known as Punch), Arlecchino (Harlequin), the Innamorati (the lovers), etc.--are puppets. He asked the students how can you make your body a vehicle for action? Who is the puppeteer? Who pulls the strings? He said the body is a circumstance that one must deal with.

What particularly drew the Dresser into this performance was Raz Link's attention to process and how one can go from the world of what is physical to what is intangible and mental. So while the fear was that this would be a freak show, the reality was that the Dresser and the audience walked away with universal truths that go across the spectrum of humanity and the human condition. The Dresser offers her own poetic interpretation of What Becomes You as follows:

A SLIGHT OF HANDS

..... I am a mirror. Refecting and
reflecting and reflecting. Get off!
Think about it. See?
..... Night pitches me no curves. Day
undulates like a bumpy burlesque. I watch
like time with no hands. Look, Ma!
..... Magician, I am not. You see...every-
thing I know...I change nothing into you...
I become you...are you surprised
like grabbing at a new face at its birth--
kissing at your parted lips and you word-
less and me born without limbs to help
myself...
..... Am I so hard, so heavy to carry...
with your fear of breaking me? No. I am
in you and without me, you do know
the truth.

Karren LaLonde Alenier
from The Dancer's Muse

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 7, 2008 9:39 AM.

The previous post in this blog was The Weary Blues: Channeling Langston.

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