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I Cook, He Does the Dishes: art and open relationships - Drew Rowsome - MyGayToronto

I Cook, He Does the Dishes: art and open relationships
23 March 2018

by Drew Rowsome
- Production photos by Haley Garnett Photography

At this point in his career, Sky Gilbert really has no fucks to give. Well not exactly. As we know from his work he still loves to fuck in the carnal sense, and he is quite happy to fuck with an audience's expectations. I Cook, He Does the Dishes is Gilbert stretching at the boundaries of theatre and performance and also just fucking around. 

I Cook, He Does the Dishes uses the relationship between the composer/musician John Cage and choreographer/dancer Merce Cunningham. As Gilbert asserts, Cage and Cunningham were key to not only the creation of the avant garde but also the concept of conceptual art. Gilbert is particularly fascinated by Cage's insistence that art should not manipulate emotions or necessarily have meaning. Fascinated but also in disagreement. 

Gilbert has, as he has frequently before - It's All TruThe Terrible ParentsMy Dinner with Casey DonovanTo Sky Gilbert at 60HackerloveA Few Brittle LeavesDancing QueenThe Situationists -  a message that he is passionate about expressing. In I Cook, He Does the Dishes, Gilbert wants the audience to consider and emulate Cage and Cunningham's open relationship. It is a noble aim but it is a awkward fit. Towards the end it is announced, "Now comes the most didactic part of the play. As you may have deduced, the author has a point of view," and what follows is didactic, enlivened only by witty dialogue and an annoying parody of call and response audience participation.

Even a vague knowledge of Cage and Cunningham's work is a help - I had to google the chess reference that was naggingly familiar and when I did, I Cook, He Does the Dishes offered a fascinating facet - and the artistic and intellectual references fly fast and furiously, frequently satirically. Notably there is a section where the space - configured in the round, fourth wall-free and immersive - is transformed through very simple and clever means into the bushes at night where Cage liked to cruise for sex. The set and sound design, and a bit of hardcore porn, bring the erotic appeal and sensations of the hunt to vivid life.   It is magical, haunting and hot.

Shawn DeSouza-Coelho is an intense and compelling Cage. He lectures, struts, performs Satie admirably, and is fearlessly naked both physically and emotionally. Aldrin Bundoc as Cunningham, as well as many other roles, is equally intense, uninhibited and erotically comic. Claire Burns (The Baby) has some heavy lifting to do as the actor given both an Emma Goldman speech espousing Gilbert/Cage's non-monogamy theory and the ex-wife in the triangle who argues for monogamy. She switches emotions and tactics with a simple spin of her stilettos. 

Lyon Smith (An Enemy of the People) pops in and out and one of his characters, Harry Hay, had to be googled as well to discover what Hay's connection to Cage was. Again, once discovered, it added immeasurably to the experience, though of course the googling occurred after the play was over. Smith is also responsible for the soundscape that not only quotes from Cage, but veers off in some comical and wonderful directions. There are a lot of demands placed on the cast as they, at various times, play dramatic scenes realistically, clown outrageously, recreate a Marx Brothers routine, and because Cunningham was a dancer, execute choreography. All at a relentless pitch. A pitch they sustain.

There are so many ideas, references and stylistic shifts in I Cook, He Does the Dishes, that it is a bit overwhelming. And not as coherent as it could be. It could be that Gilbert is stretching. Or maybe just trying to cram a lot of thoughts into one piece of performance art/theatre. But most likely he is taking Cage's thesis to heart and is demanding that we experience his art on its own terms without expectation of emotional reaction or meaning. But he can't resist adding his "didactic" "point of view." And that makes it a Gilbert play, as avant garde and challenging as a Cage or Cunningham piece.

I Cook, He Does the Dishes continues until Sun, April 1 at The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St W. theatrecentre.org

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