DV8 Physical Theatre, SF

Written by:
Michael Wade Simpson
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DV8 Physical Theatre

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco,
November 2009
To Be Straight With You


photo by Matt Nettheim

DV8 Physical Theatre’s production of To Be Straight With You, hits the stage like a stack of newspapers hitting the pavement from the delivery truck.  Its sensational and unflinching headlines are the result of hundreds of hours of interviews from both victims and perpetrators of homophobic violence and intolerance. Presented as a dark dream of vignettes using verbatim text, sometime violent physical movement, dance, documentary and animated footage, all signatures of the DV8 style.  To Be Straight With You questions how and if society will ever reconcile religious beliefs with human rights.  

In presenting these tough, often life-threatening tales – many from ethnic minorities with strong religious ties – it unintentionally makes the U.S. gay marriage crusade look a bit frivolous and elitist when a gun is pointing at someone’s head.  “Despite great gains in the law to protect gay people in this country (Great Britain), our interviews show how lesbians and gay men, if they choose to become visible, (still) face intimidation and physical abuse,” says Artistic Director, Lloyd Newson, who formed DV8 in 1986. To Be Straight With You marks his company’s return to San Francisco after a twelve-year hiatus.  

“The themes behind this production are complex, sensitive and not easily translated into movement…” Newson admits, and the dance that does take place is more a vehicle to keep the show’s passion moving rather than becoming its lyrical counterpoint.  At the same time movement is concise and intentional. Its rough street choreography can include a performer effortlessly skipping rope while delivering a monologue and frequently has a – tap-your-head-while-rubbing-your-belly-in-the-opposite-direction-like quality.  How someone jumps rope or does a Moon-Walk- jive shuffle while telling their dramatic story and not running out of breath or missing a beat makes it questionable as to whether some of the delivery is pre recorded, or if these very talented performers are just that talented?

For an American audience, trying to assimilate the opening scenes of this British-based production, with its mix of Rasta-jive and London’s East End cockney can be a bit of a reach, especially since they are word-heavy narratives.  Americans will be forced to sit-up, catch up, and may have to rely on the impressively artsy video-graphic-projections by Kit Monkman and Tom Wexler that sometimes create the set around dimly lit performers, overlaying on them like clothing, or sprayed across them like graffiti.   To these creative visuals is Adam Hooper and John Avery’s soundscape that paints itself across the stage as effortlessly as the video projections or as edgy as a dj’s spin.

To the painful intensity of confessions, humor runs from understated to wickedly dignified, showing up in the least expected places, like an all male country-western-style dance done on chairs. Or, in the duet of an East Indian man being orbited and remotely partnered by another man, as the first sings along with Shaikira.  Not so funny is the Theater-0f-Cruelty style of bodily violence that unlike most theater makes a man being punched or dragged across the stage more tangible then, say, the journalistic photos of Abu Graib or witnessing a brawl in real life.  Yet, even more cruel and unnerving than this seemingly (un)staged physical aggression are the hard-hitting hate and death-threatening lyrics about homos in a pounding rap song vignette that solicits an urge to dance.

To Be Straight With You deserves to be shown at every educational institution around the world, for perpetrators, fundamentalist and liberals alike.  It deserves to be seen a second time by audiences to take in its many layers and to witness its dim spark of hope.

David E. Moreno

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