Bronx Gothic at the Young Vic
Multidisciplinary performer Okwui Okpokwasili collaborates with her husband director Peter Born to portray a thought-provoking and unusual hybrid of dance and theatrics that explores the cultural revelations of young girls growing up in the Bronx.
Opening her one-woman show facing away from her audience, the actress trembles with intent, her body purposely quivering in time with the fluctuating music through pulsating motions that perhaps deliver unspoken messages we are left to interpret. Some 20 minutes later, her dark, lithe limbs glisten with sweat as she turns in an almost trancelike state to eventually face us.
The space is strewn with delicate wild flowers and intermittently lit white lampshades and her dialogue begins as she opens scattered letters from the floor, written between two pre-pubescent girls at elementary school. Okpokwasili reads aloud, alternating her voice to decipher between the authors. The language is coarse, sexually explicit and reveals the lack of respect within that community for a “brown, young girl”.
She discards each letter after reading it to us, throwing herself on the ground with rhythmic thumps, singing or repeating poetic words to move the story along. It’s a chaotic, angry and fractured execution that unearths the girls’ friendship and the dreams they confide to each other.
The performer places herself at the helm of the younger of the two girls. Sexually inexperienced and “ugly”, she eventually loses contact with her promiscuous friend and the latter part of the show sees her as an adult going in search of her. Raw emotion brings this play to a close as tears fall down her cheeks and onto the floor. Exasperated and broken, she stands still upon our resting gaze.
Bronx Gothic is haunting, brutal and hugely ambiguous in places, but Okpokwasilis is mesmerising and genuinely invested in such a physical performance. Through sweat, blood and tears her work is delivered and shows a rare vulnerability that is as evocative as it is uneasy.
Photo: Helen Murray
Bronx Gothic is at the Young Vic from 1st June until 29th June 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.