Duet with Void
Who are you when you become someone else?
all I want is what you want
March 17–19, 2022
Someone crawls out of the window. They slowly remove their black zip-up snowsuit to reveal a white button-down anorak, white boxer briefs, white shoes. They toss their long white wig. Lithe movements propel them along the back wall: they stagger toward us, gesturing with limp wrists. They collapse into a white chair and spread their legs. They look at us—through us—and place a hand over their face.
all I want is what you want moves like a fever dream through attachment, seduction, and ego death, commenting on the audience’s voyeuristic presence along the way. Lena Engelstein and Jo Warren stage a subtly campy and hilariously queer duet as an investigation into self-dissolution via transference, reflection, and refusal. They disappear into each other, extract themselves, and try again.
Jo asks an audience member something. For a moment, we’re afraid the audience member and Jo will keep repeating the same question, bantering back and forth like mirrors turned toward each other—What? What what? What do you mean, what? What do you mean, what, what? But the audience member relents, tells Jo their name is Gail. I’m Gail, says Jo. Close your eyes. Jo then instructs us to expand our bodies until they disappear. The lights change, shifting shades of blue and red. I open my eyes and Jo is looking at me.
When we love another person, what are we loving? The way their wig falls into their eyes, the way they adjust their baseball cap, or talk about existential philosophy? The things that remind us of ourselves? Maybe this isn’t love; maybe this is imitation. We don’t want lovers—we want mirrors. And mirrors scare the shit out of us.
Lena and Jo take off their wigs. Lena sees Jo. Terror. Jo sees Lena. Horror. Jo sees Lena seeing Jo seeing Lena. Lena sees Jo seeing Lena seeing Jo. Terror! Horror! Dario-Argento-Suspiria-1977-red lighting and moody synths that build and build until we are in the inside of a funhouse mirror watching Lena and Jo smack into the walls! Cut the lights. Two bodies see one body. Oh. One body sees another. Oh! An other body. There are two bodies. Another? They see each other simultaneously. They strike the same poses. They throw their torsos up and down, tossing their hair, making the same noise at the same time: a noise of relief, recognition, a little bit of disappointment. Oh. It’s you again. You? Oh—wait, you—it changes slightly. They see each other while being seen. Ohhhhhhh— So, to reiterate, two bodies see they are seen by an audience of other bodies. Oh— sighs Jo. Ho— says Lena. Hole.
Holes are deceptive, fecund. Ambiguous and thus queer, of course; funny, too, and uncanny. When philosopher Lee Edelman uses the word “whole,” it also means “hole.” As in, a totality and a vacancy: (w)hole. The difference falls between the realms of the aural and the visual. The difference between Lena and Jo’s breathing when they throw their bodies across the floor on all fours to the downstage corner is audible and visible. The difference between Lena and Jo is what this piece is about. Is it?
The bodies on stage, Lena and Jo’s bodies, move toward us as much as they move away. They do choreography. They give high kicks, twirls, sexy hip shifts, coordination, and virtuosity; then, an invisible force clutches at the back of their necks, and they cringe away, lower their eyes, face the wall. It’s as if they’re about to throw up: a retching heave in their upper torsos, a hand across the mouth. Revulsion, recognition—a physical inability to hold our gaze. They sense our otherness. They sense, perhaps, their own otherness.
Lena sits while Jo tapes a design on the floor. The tape is white, just like the big button-down shirts and shoes they’re both wearing, and the baseball caps and white wigs they’ve removed and hung on the wall. Lena sits beside the oblong shape on the floor and describes what’s been going on. She says, I don’t know who I am in this… I’m like that woman in a horror film. I’m so empty, I find another person and I start taking things from them. I’m the hole.
The (w)hole. Maybe we’re the hole, and they’re falling into us as we consume their mirror images. Maybe the whole is constituted somewhere between them. In the chaos of limbs and hair and lungs, they’ve created a space for both and all identities: self, other, me, not me, you, us, them, we. The boundaries collapse. A void opens and there they are beside us, kicking their legs and slicing through space and sweating. Lena says, We have to become the void. Enter the void and become.
Indeed, they entered in the void and became.