“The Story of I”

At first glance, The Story of I is a performance about unblemished self. Directed and improvised by Anne West , around texts by Théâtre Laboratoire Vicinal founder Frederic Baal , I is a symbol of free-flowing, Freudian “Id” who questions, answers, mimics, addresses, qualifies, dismisses, and defends herself in a personally mixed language of chants, whispers: chortles, groans, sighs, French, and English. “When are you going to behave? I am very, very having. All being having. Only later knew any better. Don’t say you’re sorry. It don’t mean anything.” I quickly comes across as too energetic and willful to be socially acceptable, which itself seems a kind of freedom.

But I is not alone. It is also the story of her Shell: seven bluish black, fiberglass “sculpture-properties,” well designed and constructed for this performance by the Belgian sculptor Olivier Strebelle . Shell and I are perfect companions. The shells are slitted, notched, curved, and perforated to receive I’s retiring head, let out I’s exploring foot, or lie as separate remnants temporarily unheeded on the floor. I submits to Shell, makes anthropomorphic play-creatures of it, defends it against imaginary threats, creeps and waltzes into its crevices, wobbles its elongations to scare out evil influences, and feverishly remarks its exterior hardness in contrast with her own flushed face.

But the shells restrict as well as protect—allowing only a vulnerable freedom that depends on having one’s every whim in a controlled environment. If I is a “Primal I,” she looks more guarded than free, and the shells are not her only shelter. A pattern develops in which an absurdity follows her every inkling of reason, and her many “tongues” often sound like mimicked remains of some prior time’s nervous, social conversations. The shells are always there to climb into, recover in, and start from afresh; although essentially .they limit the extent to which she develops, inviting her to go through repeating cycles. I impulsively acts things out without ever having to step forward, change, or grow.

In folding chairs around the performance area, I finds still another enclosure in the audience, which she imitates with mock-philosophy, the one and only time she leaves her space. But this is more an artful echo than any courageous “going beyond.” She seems only to be hiding, and her spontaneity proves a one-way communication with which it is impossible for any other “I” to relate. Her beginning fun turns into little more than a tragically incubated asylum.

Ultimately, there is not much difference here between the self-conscious audience and the galloping I, who might have “been” more because social propriety did not influence her inclinations, but in the end, just as any audience, I preserves her defenses. When I leaves with her shell and I leave with my briefcase, there is the feeling we are somehow similar. Despite initial misimpressions, I’s story shows that “misbehaving,” far from being free of the external world, involves a considerable consciousness of reality.

C.L. Morrison