Saturday, June 8, 2024

"devoured: notes on love and enmeshment" at The Southern Theater

devoured: notes on love and enmeshment is a meditation on codependency through three queer intimate relationships. Weaving text and movement, it explores complicated relationship dynamics between people who are struggling to love and be loved, but can't help but hurt each other in the process." This description of the new play by Playwrights' Center's Many Voices Fellow Liqing Xu is apt, but doesn't cover how beautiful, funny, and moving it is. Over the course of 70 minutes, we see three different relationships play out, with no happy ending in sight. But perhaps a bit of personal growth. There are only three more chances to see this fascinating, innovative, and thoughtful new work at the Southern Theater.

The story focuses on a woman (Michelle de Joya) and her very different relationships with three very different people. I don't think we're meant to believe that all of these relationships are going on at the same time, perhaps they're at different times in her life, perhaps they're fantasies, or perhaps they're happening outside of time. One of the partners offers her all-consuming love (Josie Ramier), one holds himself back (Antonio Duke), one is overly clingy and happy to be the "giver" (Johanna Keller Flores). Each relationship travels a different path, but they all end up the same way.

Johanna Keller Flores and Michelle de Joya
The play is beautifully written and well constructed, with four scenes of each of the three relationships that mark the progress from happy(ish) beginning to devastating (at least for some) ending. We alternate between the three stories, and after each set there's a scene of movement and music that wordlessly expresses what we just saw, set to expressive original music. I appreciate the symmetrical structure of the piece, but that doesn't mean that it's rigid. Within this structure the play is very fluid, one scene flowing seamlessly into the next, with barely a pause. (Direction by Emma Y. Lai, choreography by Pedra Pepa, composition and sound design by Atim Opoka.)

Michelle de Joya
Everyone in the cast is great, the three supporting players creating specific characters in their short scenes. But Michelle de Joya in particular gives a fantastic performance at the center of the relationship triangle, rarely leaving the stage. In her performance she covers a wide range of emotions, often changing at the drop of a hat as she ends one scene collapsed in a puddle of tears and begins the next one a minute later in a happier mood. She's also a fantastic dancer and physical actor, and that emotional range carries through the movement scenes.

The designers have made the vast expanse of the Southern Theater feel more intimate by focusing on a bed in the center of the space, surrounded by five large strips of what look like torn paper hanging from the ceiling, with burnt edges. But the movement scenes extend throughout the whole space. There's a theme of rope (enmeshment), literally tangling the characters up in each other. They're dressed in simple black and gray athleisure that looks clean and cohesive, and allows for easy movement. (Set and lighting design by Alice Endo.)

Take a chance on a new work, and be rewarded by a really thoughtfully and beautifully done rumination on relationships, that engendered murmurs of recognition from the young and diverse crowd. It's great to see queer relationships featured, especially during Pride month, but the themes of the piece are universal and apply to all sorts of relationships. There are two shows today (Saturday), with the closing performance on Sunday June 9.