Six lanes bordered by colourful elastic straps, each assigned a random number, leading up to us. At the downstage centre is a red circular platform, slightly elevated, small enough to only accommodate solo performances. Such is the economical and symbolic stage design of Sexodrom, that the audience is given the promise of a reality show. The stage becomes an arena of contestation, where every participant must race against each other to steal the spotlight, and after that, subject to exhaustive observation, judgment and objectification.
Among the numerous programmes in the International Theatre Festival for Young Audiences Iași this year, Sexodrom presents itself like an outcast. Not only does it promise to be much more provocative, confrontational, and blatantly non-conformist, but the venue of the show also evokes an imagination of “otherness”. Sexodrom is held at Teatru Fix, an independent theatre refurbished from an old garment factory, far from the main venue of Luceafărul Theatre in the grungier, more industrial side of the city.
As the herd of audience is ushered into this underground premise, filling every space possible of the small black box theatre, the show begins: Six performers enter the stage; we see an eclectic melange of fashion: one dresses herself entirely in red, one in cabaret costumes, one in sportive attire, one with long braids and an ethnic outfit; and to add to the mix are one male drag queen and one male cross-dresser. The diversity of costumes clearly shows the expressiveness of the female body, either biologically identified or wishfully performed.
Together they form a powerful group acting against the patriarchal discourse that is still firmly rooted in the Romanian society. They take turns to go onto the circular platform, and, in the manner of in-yer-face theatre, hurl protests, sing sarcasm and scream manifestos at the audience. They accuse the government of inaction towards the discrimination of sexual and racial minorities, dismiss the male gaze, and mock at the subjugation of women under the pretense of art-making. The text is a collaborative work written by the performers themselves, so there is a sense of sincerity and honesty when they are delivering their lines.
But things are not as easy as they seem. In the beginning, they are rather optimistic; they sing a counting-out rhyme (the Romanian version of “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe”) to determine the order in which to perform on the small circular stage. But once they stand on the platform, one after the other, to deliver their lengthy monologue, a sense of loneliness and desperation undoubtedly sinks in. Thanks to the overpowering game-show design, they are being isolated, as if stranded on a deserted island, and manipulated by the spotlight until every bit of hope and vitality is stripped away.
“Dance!” they shout from time to time, urging their counterparts in the group to perform a dance ritual to a mechanical nightclub tune. But to dance is now an obligation, and no longer an internal impulse. In the end, Sexodrom is not a show of liberation, but one about the repression of desires and the cruelty of objectification.
Director Bogdan Georgescu and the performers are very well aware that they need to confront the omnipresent patriarchy, and they choose to do it blatantly – through angry accusations and emotional outpourings by a troop of suppressed personalities, and also by sacrificing the subtleties and ambiguities of the theatre for the didacticism and narrow perspectives of a TV show, in order to mock at the rigidity of the Romanian society. And they are very well aware of the inadequacies of such an execution: If words and costumes are like skin, protecting the flesh of virtues and emotions beneath it, then, after all the talking and showcasing, all that remains is a pile of bones, as presented in the form of a bone whip that one performer is wielding at the end.
In the context of the contemporary Romanian society, Sexodrom does hit home the message. It is a manifesto to spark activism, given that Romania is still lagging behind when it comes to gender equality. A year ago, there was a referendum that attempts to redefine marriage as only between a man and a woman. Luckily, the majority boycotted it. In this sense, it helps to anchor these personalities of sexual and racial minorities on the stage. However, this method may be outdated in the global currents of gender equality and gender fluidity. In Sexodrom, little imagination is left for the audience to explore the possibilities of the queer body. Perhaps a softer and more decentred approach to tackle such gender issues is needed in the long run. After all, it takes more time and in-depth research to determine whether Sexodrom is a “good game” or not.
(Participant, Workshop for young critics)