Dead On Her Feet

Thu 6th – Sat 15th September 2012


Suwita Hani Randhawa

at 02:24 on 7th Sep 2012



'Dead On Her Feet' is an energetic play with a strong contemporary resonance. While it sweeps us back to an era which most of us are likely to have been acquainted with through history textbooks, the play poignantly speaks to aspects of contemporary society. In a time where strands of present-day popular culture are dominated by voyeurism through reality TV shows and social media, this play reminds us of the futility behind our desire to replace the humdrum of our lives with instant fame and with wanting to be seen, heard and paid attention to.

The actors form a vibrant collective and they execute their roles with particular zest. Although the actors physically share the stage for much of the performance, each character is largely developed on an individual basis. We learn more about the characters in individual terms, rather than through their interaction with the other characters. At times, this gives the play a sense of hollowness; the absence of connections and relationships between the different characters contributes to the play’s emotional emptiness.

However, this is compensated for by the production’s use of physical space, which is both creative and imaginative. The minute we step into the theatre, we see piles of black garbage bags form an imposing tower in the centre of the stage and brooms and bags of trash scattered on the left and right. This is “Pulaski Falls”, an American town hit by the Depression in the 1930s. And when the play gradually moves into scenes that take place in a dance hall, the stage is physically transformed in an equally creative manner: a brightly lit large sign that reads "The Grand American Ballroom", hangs from the top of stage and warm lights floods the stage. All of this, coupled with vintage props and furniture items, as well as costumes that harked back to 1930s fashion, infuses the theatre with the feel of a bygone era.

What is glaringly missing throughout the performance, however, is the sound and the vibe of the 1930s. This play doesn’t utilize much music and given that much of the play takes place during a dance marathon, this amounted to a striking absence. I had expected some musical numbers that epitomized the rhythm and the sounds of America in the 1930s and so it was interesting to note that on the few occasions when music is used, they are short snippets of what sounds like club and techno music. This proves rather jolting for me, particularly because I had comfortably settled into a different historical era from the moment the performance began.

The play’s central theme – the failure of the American Dream – is not a novel one. At times, I found the moral and existential crises faced by the characters as a consequence of capitalism’s cycles of booms and busts of capitalism rather mundane. However, because the ‘failure of the American Dream’ was executed and performed in a unique setting, a dance hall where the characters are trapped in a dance marathon, it lent an interesting twist to this well-known theme. And it was the thought that this theme-and-setting combination provoked in me that I primarily took away from the performance: If reaching out for false dreams turns us into caged animals, exactly who is worse off? The characters of the play, the ones who are trapped in the cage of their false and broken dreams? Or me and the rest of the audience, the spectators of the emotional and physical mayhem which ensues from the freak show of broken dreams?


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