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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Sunday, March 06, 2005

entry arrow7:42 PM | Woman on Top, Without Safety Nets

Get a load of this. I saw Linda Marlowe perform Thursday night, one of the best performances I've ever seen, diminished only by the hugeness and lesser magic of the Luce Auditorium. Earlier that day, we had fun over lunch, too, chatting about her work and then some.

In No Fear, British actress Linda Marlowe's one-woman whirlwind act about a life in full-blast color, everything culminates into a high-wire trapeze routine -- which may be the perfect metaphor for the story of a woman who has been through the edges of everything. Will her act end on a high note? Or will she fall? And where is the safety net to catch her if she does?

Never mind the worries. The show, after all, is about confronting the worst of your fears and declaring war on them -- especially if you are a woman on the verge. Earlier that morning, talking with Ms. Marlowe in a hotel lobby facing the sea off the Dumaguete Boulevard, she goes straight to what may be the very definition of daring existence: "There are no safety nets in my life."

In fact, when London's The Financial Times reviewed her work in No Fear, the critic was moved by that last piece of symbolism, even by an unforeseen accident that punctuated that performance: "At the climax of the [show] I saw, Marlowe fell off the trapeze swing. She immediately assured us that she was unhurt, climbed back on and completed the act: a perfect metaphor for her life."

That life is enshrined in that powerful performance, brought in for Filipino audiences in time for Women's Month this March by the British Council, the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and the Silliman University Cultural Affairs Committee. The solo act, showcased for the past week on theater stages in Cebu, in Manila, and the Luce Auditorium in Dumaguete City, has been well-received -- and may even be seen as crossing the boundaries of humor, pathos, cultural references, and British accents.

No Fear follows two of Marlowe's widely-acclaimed solo shows -- Berkoff's Women and an adaptation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Diatribe of Love -- and has been variously described as "one woman's Amazonian adventures as a daring divorcee, raunchy rock-chick, undercover operator, manic mother, and professional free spirit, as she looks back from the viewpoint of the world's oldest circus artist performing a high-wire act on the eve of her 100th birthday."

In other words, it is all about her, sans the birthday bit. And that may well be the most interesting part of the play -- its strong, often relentlessly autobiographical elements. Ms. Marlowe says, "I have some very good friends and colleagues who work with me -- writers and directors -- and they all tell me that my life has been so colorful. So why don't I make it as one of my one-woman shows? Of course, I thought that would be boring. So then we decided to make the theme of the show about the fearful situations in my life, about the things that gave me fear. There is a scene, for example, about my giving birth to my sons, and how fearful I was that if I would leave their cot any minute, they wouldn't breathe anymore."

There are the other anecdotes spliced into the performance that explore, in length, a life of adventure and occasional fear. There is, for instance, her one-time occupation as a drug mule, when she had to cross the Atlantic with contraband sewn into her jacket. "I was just a bold girl. I was an actress," she said, "and I wanted to do adventurous things. And when somebody told me 'You have to carry this to America,' I said, 'Oh yes.' It was only marijuana. There must have been an easier way to earn $500, but I did it to put my child through school. But of course, part of it was really the thrill."

It hasn't always been easy, putting one's life on display as a theatrical piece for hundreds of people to see, the fact that people become privy to one's adventures and misadventures. For Ms. Marlowe, it becomes so much more bearable, because "it has been made theatrical, so I just pretend that I am playing a part."

Most reviews of her work always seem to put a focus on her "unique physical style" and "heightened characterization." The show, all of its 70 minutes, seems to be the epitome of a physical actor's work, something which she is proud of owning up to: "I was, after all, a dancer first. Physical acting for me is more life-enforcing, I think. I use my body to explore different characters."

In her next solo show, she takes that body language even further, this time playing different characters in Mortal Ladies Possessed, which is adapted from several short stories by Tennessee Williams, and thus making known that she has a penchant for playing characters who are always on the edge of rage and passion: "That is all incorporated into my own emotional states. I like playing damaged women, vulnerable women. Gentle, very courageous people. It's quite interesting to play these kinds of women because they seem to show aspects of my own personality."

In the music, mime, and monologue of No Fear, she finds that in the substance of her own life. Beyond that, Ms. Marlowe hopes her story will resonate to all women everywhere. "It's a message to women," Ms. Marlowe says, "and even men. It's about a woman as she goes through four decade of her life, in a time where certain things just weren't allowed for her."

The trick, it seems, is to push the envelope of convention, taking care not to notice too much that there are no safety nets in real life, but going at it just the same.

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich