WINK by Jen Silverman

Basement Theatre Foyer, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

11/06/2024 - 15/06/2024

Production Details


Written by Jen Silverman
Directed by Isla Macleod

PRESENTED BY
HEKERUA BAY PRODUCTIONS & A MORAL TALE

PRODUCDERS
ISLA MACLEOD & ESAÚ MORA


WINK is a 75 minute dark comedy about the thin veil between our capacity for civility and savagery. It marks the Aotearoa premiere of one of America’s most-produced playwrights: Jen Silverman.

The suburban dream is clawed apart when a distressed housewife and her bloody husband drag themselves into the office of a needy therapist to discuss their missing cat. Chaos is spilled when polite people get mad as hell.

Playwright Jen Silverman (they/them) will make their Broadway debut this year with The Roommate, starring Mia Farrow and Patti LuPone. They have also written for “Tokyo Vice” (HBO) and “Tales of the City” (Netflix). The 2018 Off-Broadway production of their play Collective Rage: A Play in Five Betties received a Drama League Award nomination for Outstanding Play.

Starring Beatriz Romilly (West End’s “2:22 A Ghost Story”, ATC’s “King Lear”); Esaú Mora (ATC’s “Grand Horizons”, The Humana Festival “Wondrous Strange ” with Jen Silverman); Andrew Allemora (Outstanding Lead Actor NAPTA for “Priscilla Queen of the Desert”, “Avenue Q”) and Daniel Watterson (“Things I Know To Be True” Court Theatre, “Twelfth Night” Pop Up Globe).

WINK at Basement Theatre is proudly brought to you by Director Isla Macleod, Hekerua Bay Productions & A Moral Tale.

Basement Theatre
11-15 June, 8PM
Show info: https://basementtheatre.co.nz/whats-on/wink-a-play-by-jen-silverman
$28 Tickets: https://www.iticket.co.nz/events/2024/jun/wink/nocache


CAST
ANDREW ALLEMORA, BEATRIZ ROMILLY, DANIEL WATTERSON, & ESAÚ MORA

LIGHTING DESIGN & OPERATOR - LUUK HEIJNEN
STAGE MANAGER - LUCIE EVERETT-BROWN
SET DESIGN - HARRY DOWLE
SET INSTALLATION & PROPS - PEARL WILLIAMSON
MOVEMENT COACH - MICHELE HINE
VOCAL COACH - JANE HORDER
MUSICAL ARRANGEMENT - BRAY JEFFREYS
KEY ART PHOTOGRAPHER - ASHLEIGH REID
PRODUCTION PHOTOGRAPHER - MEGAN GOLDSMAN
TITLE TREATMENT DESIGN - SHONA MACLEOD
PROGRAMME DESIGN - ANDREW ALLEMORA


Theatre ,


75 mins

Executes on the philosophy of theatre as psycho-drama as though it were a manifesto 

Review by Jade Winterburn 15th Jun 2024

‘I don’t make art; I make psycho-drama,’ I found myself saying to someone not so long ago. American playwright Jen Silverman’s Wink is a play that executes on this philosophy as though it were a manifesto. 

We open with two scenes of parallel construction: A man, Gregor (Esaú Mora) and a woman, Sofie (Beatriz Romilly) seeing the same therapist, Dr. Frans (Andrew Allemora). They discuss the recent traumatic event in their lives, the disappearance of the cat named Wink (Daniel Watterson). We come to understand Gregor and Sofie are married, although they seem to lack a productive relationship with each other and instead have productive relationships with everything else. Dr. Frans, permitting or encouraging or arguably even enforcing this American WASPy [White Anglo-Saxon Protestant-y] familial formation, simply has no hope of resolving the psychological issues at play. A hyper-neurotic, The Analyst positions himself as the exemplar and attempts to condition his patients to sooth his own neuroses; displacing his own desire and paranoia onto his patients then relieving himself by convincing them to repress in unison. ‘Push it down! Push it down! Push it down!’ The patients, in turn, accurately diagnose themselves – ‘But doctor, what if…’ 

But doctor, what if I desire to be free? ‘I think that’s quite unlikely.’

The thing about repression, especially in the form that psychoanalysts might call ‘fetishistic disavowal’ is that the more conscious, deliberate, or focused the repression, the more power given to the libidinal forces at play. Flows of desire struggle to express themselves and express themselves, they do!

Wink, the cat, buried in the garden, finds himself undead, reincarnated by the collective imagination of the rest of the cast. He claws his way up through his shallow grave and plots his vengeance: To haunt those humans, that family that allowed his death, and to psychically liberate them. 

Without too many spoilers, there’s not much more I can say than this: Wink is hilarious, horny, and real. A psychological theatre tour de force, Wink tells a story that is actively liberatory for an audience whose psychology is shackled by capitalist hetero-patriarchy.

To be specific, Wink is an example of American Modern Drama. My personal exposure to this kind of theatre is mostly vicarious, the themes and affectations familiar to me through staged productions in the film Birdman or the series Bojack Horseman. Esaú, as Gregor, sells the living **** out of this, which is no surprise due to his having studied and performed in the USA, where he developed a working relationship with Silverman. From the moment Esaú is on stage, we have a sense of where and when we are, and what kinds of people we are dealing with. WASPs hold a place in a kind of cultural imagination. They’re what comes to mind when we say things like: the 50’s, white picket fences, breadwinners and housewives. All of this comes across in the set designed by Harry Dowle, which powerfully evokes the genre and conjures the settings.

I think, implicitly, the way Silverman interrogates and deconstructs the psychology of this is served well by the fact that neither Mora or Romilly are actually WASPs. As Hispanic-Latinx performers, they manage to emphasise this heteropatriarchal formation as a kind of drag. Gregor is so invested in this because it’s the only way, emotionally, that he is prepared to accept his exploitation in the workplace. As we understand him to be non-white in the time and place conjured in our imagination we can easily imagine the character as one who faces additional mistreatment and exploitation in the workplace by virtue of his racialisation, even if we never see this on-stage. A colonial subject, Gregor identifies with the values of the oppressor to his own detriment as no matter how ‘hard he works’ he will always be placed as subordinate to the ruling class. Sofie, by contrast, is entirely unable hide how devastated she is by the role that has been thrust upon her. With Wink the cat, the liberated spark of joy in her life, she is able to sublimate her desire to be free into enjoyment and appreciation of her constant companion. Gregor kills Wink, frustrated and jealous (either/both) of the liberated cat himself or the amelioration of his wife’s plight it provides. He skins him to take for himself some symbol of this coveted quality. This breach, this close encounter with the real, sets the plot in motion by irrevocably disrupting the patient psychology.

For his part, Daniel Watterson plays an incredible cat. Simply in his movement, he gives one of the most captivating and philosophically expressive performances I’ve ever seen. Movement, for all of the characters, was superb. Essentially, it’s huge credit to Isla Macleod and Esaú Mora as producers for assembling an exceptional team with Isla Macleod’s direction ensuring that the story, told through the movement of bodies, says as much as the story told in words. The disruptive, challenging force of Watterson’s Wink the Cat, the tension and interplay all the cast have, with lighting design by Luuk Heijnen accentuating each moment of tension. Somehow, it manages to be a play I’d be genuinely interested in watching without a single word spoken aloud. Not that I’d want to miss a word of Jen’s script, it’s a fun thought that no other (non-dance) performance has provoked in me. A personal anecdote, while I was sitting on the front row there was a point where Watterson so convincingly seemed to be a cat searching for somewhere to sit that I felt compelled to clear my lap to make room, which (I think) got a solid, understanding laugh from the rest of the audience.

Watterson’s portrayal of Wink compares favorably to versions of The Rocky Horror Show’s Dr. Frank N. Furter. Wink makes the argument that is fundamentally bi-and-transsexual, ‘I do what I want, because I want to. And I if I don’t want to do it, I simply do not do it.’ This is the antithesis to the presuppositions enforced by Dr. Frans, and seeing this skinless, humanised version of Wink in action holds instinctive attractiveness for Gregor and Frans. Dr. Frans, notably, engages with these arguments on a conscious level. He asks, ‘how can you live this way?’ to which Wink replies, ‘tenuously.’ Andrew Allemora plays the transformation well as Dr. Frans interrogates his own assumptions about life and recognises his need to live joyously, his one foible being emotional dependence on Wink as a psychopomp, causing their inevitable separation to be devastating. 

The revolutionary emotional development is most fully realised in Sofie, and credit to Beatriz Romilly for convincing us of this transition. To potentially misquote theorist Ciara Cremin, ‘unlike masculine sexuality, which is entirely phallic, feminine sexuality is only in part phallic.’ Sofie constructs for herself a phantasy, a delusion. From a simple lie about her own expressed frustration at her situation, she constructs the persona of the Latinx revolutionary Roland. A terrorist set on destruction for its own sake, and an unbelievable polymath, Roland seeks not just to upturn Sofie’s life, but all of society. For all this, Roland is still Sofie’s racist construction of a revolutionary, evoking a pop-culture imagining of a queer Che Guevara with a beret and bandoliers over a mesh top. This too, is drag. Another layer of drag. Drag upon drag as he takes a drag of a joint and plays piano and holds a funeral for Sofie. To quote myself, recently, ‘I died tonight. A revolutionary stands in my place.’ 

I hope this helps you experience the same.

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