Every year I attend at least one PUSH Festival performance. One of my all-time favourites (from a previous year) was Amarillo which took us into the life of one man who departs for the US –Mexican border and goes missing. In this stunning play we were offered a visceral experience of what might have happened; and has certainly happened to many who leave for the US. Crossing the border illegally in hopes of a new life, one better than the one they are leaving behind, is fraught with danger and riddled with loss. Using minimal props, sand and bottles of water, with a dabbling of multi-media we had a taste of what it would be like to walk in the desert with the living and the dead, and to have that last dance with our sweetheart who was now missing. When the play was over I sat in silence. I was so aware that this kind of storytelling brings us into the experience of another increasing our empathy for the difficult choices they face on a daily basis.
This year, Antonette Rhea’s Miss Understood, which interestingly enough also used minimal props and some multi-media, offered us another visceral experience. Miss Understood is not for the faint of heart. What a fabulous, in your face, weaving of a story about a trans woman who was once a business man and father. Her life as a drug-addicted sex worker is dark and dangerous, at times hopeless, but in the end she prevails. Her words spoken are her way out. She is a shining light for anyone struggling with their sexuality and sexual identity. In this three person play she uses her spoken word poetry, in conjunction with a young man and woman, who take on many roles, including that of her feminine and masculine personas, to take us through her life. It is a high heels, black leather and motor cycle riding man to woman kind of journey where we witness back lane sex and fists raised in jail. We learn Antonette has always stood up for the underdog. In this play she is brutally honest about her life. It is so refreshing to not have the watered down or sanitized version of a story, that not only needs to be told, but also needs to be taken in as a teaching; as good medicine for those lost in a world that demands heterosexuality or sexuality that fits into nice neat boxes. This play is bold and it is beautiful, not in the conventionally beautiful sense but in a way that honours the reality of a life lived outside the lines. It explores the many costs associated with this and left me with the utmost admiration for Antonette and her words.