Review: Telling is Power(ful) in Phenomenal Dark Comedy "FUKT"

FUKT

Written by Emma Goldman-Sherman

Directed by Janice L. Goldberg

Presented by B&C Productions and AND Theatre Company in association with The Tank at The Tank

312 W 36th Street, NYC, Manhattan

October 27-November 13, 2022

Julia Mack, Bridget Ann White, and Eileen Sugameli. Photo by Valeria Terranova

The set design for FUKT is dominated by a large collage on the back wall that, depending on how one looks at it, could suggest either a flower or a wound; the tension between–and perhaps the simultaneity of–these possibilities provides a useful symbol for the show itself, which powerfully mixes sportive comedy and forthright reckonings with cruelty and abuse and filters it all through self-aware play on the conventions of both solo shows and trauma narratives. Written by Emma Goldman-Sherman, FUKT, bending that fourth wall right from–and even before–its opening moments, finds Emma (Bridget Ann White) running into some difficulties on the opening night of her autobiographical one-woman show. Missing a mark is quickly surpassed as a difficulty by the arrival of two further characters (who present themselves as additional actors in Emma's play): her younger selves, young woman Barbara (Julia Mack) and child Bobbie (Eileen Sugameli).     

Julia Mack and Bridget Ann White. Photo by Valerie Terranova

Sharp-eyed readers may notice that Emma and Barbara/Bobbie are different names, and the mature Emma herself–(re)named in homage to feminist and anarchist Emma Goldman–wishes to frame her change in name as a myth of self-becoming. The embodiment of these aspects of Emma functions as an effective means of externalizing the complexities and frictions of her feelings and memories. While Barbara, for instance, prefers forgetting to recounting, Emma is determined to tell her/their story (in part to lay claim to and thus control it). But the three don't necessarily agree not only on whether but also on how to do this, and even on what the authentic version of some memories is. More than once, their conflicts turn physical (sometimes humorously; sometimes a bit less so), once in such an unanticipated way that we won't say any more here except that it is both extremely funny and a perfect metaphor.

Julia Mack, Bridget Ann White, and Eileen Sugameli. Photo by Valeria Terranova

FUKT outlines Emma's life from her childhood in a Philadelphia home where her father–rather symbolically–keeps sharks in tanks in the basement while her mother refuses to acknowledge what is happening to her daughter under their roof and explores how the repercussions of that childhood have echoed through her life since then, even when she did not herself acknowledge them. Emma's story highlights how hard it is for women to speak up and how doing so risks disbelief, blame, and censure. Bobbie, thus, sees Emma's show as a chance to finally be heard, while Barbara's character in part foregrounds how girls are conditioned to equate sexiness with worth. The characters question who they are (if not nothing), how malice and forgiveness can be two sides of the same coin, and how one can mistake survival for love, and they articulate their desire to break cycles of harmful parenting and trauma. They also, importantly, recognize that they are much more than the sum of traumatic memories and experiences. Mack, as a self-protectively defiant Barbara; Sugameli as a Bobbie who is both childlike and haunted beyond her years; and White as the woman finding it more difficult than expected to tell the story that she plans to tell and to assimilate her past and present selves all give spellbinding performances. The production's fourth-wall breaking and intimate setting don't allow the audience a comfortably insulating distance, but that lack of distance also works to fully involve the audience in the show's moments of joy and resilience. Extending these porous boundaries, spectators are encouraged to leave a fragment of their own stories at the play's end. FUKT is not an easy watch, but as one character reminds us, nothing worthwhile is ever easy.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards

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