Théâtre National du Luxembourg
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“We are the sum total of our experiences. Those experiences—be they positive or negative—make us the person we are, at any given point in our lives. And, like a flowing river, those same experiences, and those yet to come, continue to influence and reshape the person we are, and the person we become. None of us are the same as we were yesterday, nor will be tomorrow.”
The words of the American science fiction writer B J Neblett pretty much sum up the currents running through Lovefool, a play by the Lithuanian-Luxembourg filmmaker and actress Gintare Parulyte, which was first performed at the 2021 Monodrama Festival and staged at the Théâtre National du Luxembourg in 2022.
Grace is a young woman whose life has been shaped by her experiences of love, inequality, toxic masculinity and gender expectations. Her life is a series of stories which run through a gamut of emotional states, from bewilderment and pain to light-heartedness and transformation.
In this one-woman play, Grace takes us through the chapters of her life, drawing us into her internal dialogue while simultaneously making her inner life vivid and visceral. Her monologue weaves together modern dating platforms, masturbation, sexual abuse, family disfunction, gender violence and addiction. She seeks therapy to combat her traumas, but conversations with her (male) psychotherapist only confirm that ‘strong women’—like the late Tina Turner and Whitney Houston—only ever sang about “not being able to be without the man that treated them like shit”.
But, if that all sounds rather grim, the honesty with which the tales are told creates a connection with the audience which is as heart-warming—and sometimes downright hilarious—as it is heart-breaking. Grace clambers over the shame and embarrassment that threaten to cripple her and stands tall. Daniel Sestak’s sometimes zany lighting creates an aura of confidence. We accept the absurd, understand the ridiculous.
Much of the impact of the play derives from Kristin Winters’s remarkable performance as Grace. She arrives on stage wearing a wedding dress—following a cringe-making 1970s-style sex education video in which a woman with a perm in a brown floral dress reduces ‘the joy of sex’ to the dictionary-definition dullness of erect penises in slippery vaginas—for a casting shoot. She’s subjected to a bullying interrogation by the casting director (a recorded voice, as are all the male characters) who derides her as “damaged goods” because no one has deigned to marry her.
Winters expertly sustains the threads of her monologue even as it is interrupted by the intrusive off-stage male voices and short documentary films (sound and video design, David Gaspar). In one of the latter, women are asked what they would like their father to have done differently; in another, children are asked what qualities make a “good woman”. Misogynist indoctrination clearly begins early: we are told that a good woman should be able to clean and cook, take care of people and have babies.
Grace also interrupts herself and breaks through the fourth wall to ask the audience to raise their hands if they have ever wanted to lead a different life, or experienced sexual abuse, or had suicidal thoughts. This is theatrical risk-taking, but it comes off as Winters has won our empathy and confidence.
She delivers her substantial monologue flawlessly, segueing persuasively between moods and situations. At times, there are tears in her eyes, and in ours too—the emotions feel almost too ‘real’, the boundary between character and actor fragile and ambiguous. And, with the audience seated almost on the stage space, the latter populated by just a few props, there’s both a physical and emotional intimacy that is touching and sometimes overwhelming.
At the close, Grace holds up a serious of questions and statements which are as clichéd and banal as they are tear-jerking. She casts them carelessly, dismissively to the ground, even as they make their emotional mark. Her final riposte, a droll “fuck off”, suggests that she has learned to love herself and to write her own story.
Lovefool will be performed at the Edinburgh Fringe from 2–27 August.
Reviewer: Claire Seymour