NEWS: Wild Dogs Under My Skirt Launches an engagement at The SoHo Playhouse April 16 – May 24, after being named this year’s “Outstanding Production” at this year’s Fringe Encore Series
by Marcina Zaccaria (originally reviewed Jan. 20, 2020)
Wild Dogs Under My Skirt begins with the presentation a large knife, with a long, thick blade not curved like a hatchet or scythe. The Wild is presented as a place where the gnashing of teeth co-mingles with a call to a smoky beyond. Six performers throw snappy phrases, supporting perfect harmonic melodies.
Singing, dancing, and monologue carry us through the narrative about Pacific Island (Pasefika) women. We travel from the fast food restaurants, past the clubs, through to what seems like their great outdoors. Their practice is devout. Songs of Jesus combine with everyday storytelling. The women hold years of experience, attached to the necessity for unison song in every way, re-inforced by a background of uniforms. With all of that in a firm past, the performers, ranging in age from early 20s to 60s, glide past tall, firm wooden chairs, cut with shapes of starbursts. Beams of light are covered in a smoky haze.
A deeply tribal experience follows. Performing in floor length dresses, with long necklaces, with hair affixed behind a flower or worn long past the waist, their recollected years of memory never compete with their essential present. They are from the Pacific Islands, some with bright blue eyes, varying in skin tone from dark to light. The performers have brought with them, almost an entire audience from New Zealand, with some appearing to have ties to nearby Australia, or even exactly Samoa. The attendees packed the entire Off-Broadway theater, and some of them call out to each other, showing off their dialect, which, to a New Yorker’s ear, sounds almost aboriginal. While most of the play is in English, performed with accents from their homeland, there are many bits of text, incorporating vocabulary clearly defined in the program.
Movement, language, and practice follow in direction by Anapela Polata’ivao, drawing from the poetic text by Tusiata Avia. The thread that weaves together the story is one that includes feminity and great spirit. While violence is pervasive and always an option, some dance it out; others rely on a sedentary priestess-like figure to hold the ground, while the truth can be told. God is nearby. So, are evil men, with which some do business.
Off stage, a drum brings the percussive start to each poem. While justice seems pre-determined for many, an offstage danger feels palpable and in counter to the sometimes carefree glance. Stories are perfectly set to rhythm, holding all breath and hiss in perfect choral unison. Other stories wind through like a choreo-rap-styling made for the catwalk, or the beach side next to the church ground. The strength of carrying on, through the everyday, relies on the muscles they show. A winding wrist gestures to a smiling face that wraps to a covered, undulating torso, supported by a strong, bent knee.
When all of the women find the floor with their fists, they move forward on all fours and declare that they are wild dogs. The roar is incomparable. It’s beyond a howl, and something like a sustained growl emerging from the back of the throat, pressing past any chipped tooth. Somehow, their journey must end here, with a complete transformation. Although certainly perceptible as demonic, it’s more like ferocious assertion. Perhaps, it’s only with such a dangerous might that they find their truth.
Wild Dogs Under My Skirt ran through January 18, as part of the Fringe International Encore Series, honoring the “Best of the Fests,” from renowned Fringe Festivals. Wild Dogs was performed at the SoHo Playhouse, located at 15 Vandam Street in New York City.