There are few things more exciting than seeing the birth of something truly unique. With just a handful of performances under their belt, Frank Wo/Men Collective has firmly planted their flag into the Austin arts landscape with their bizarre, bold, and brazen experimental performances, and with their latest, they’ve created one of the most audacious performance pieces the city has seen in years. A stunning slide in a waterlogged wonderland, Rub A Duck is an opening salvo, waking audiences up to just what this fledgling company has to offer.
At this point, you may asking, what’s this piece about? Honestly, even if I could tell you, it still wouldn’t capture the dark magic that Frank Wo/Men Collective casts in this wet, wild, and unflinching masterstroke. Taking place in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Rub A Duck transports us into the Transformation House, a home for those seeking a better identity for themselves, as we follow the grueling, moist journey of five participants, each with their own desires, goals, and personalities. What happens within the walls of this place is nothing short of jaw-dropping, as the participants perform in increasingly bizarre tasks, some of them so wild I’m not sure I could write them down without being flagged (one particular sequence involving a speculum may be the most daring act I’ve ever seen on stage). One thing they all have in common is that they present a collection of performers who are as brave as they are brash.
Part dance performance, part musical, part experimental art piece, one thing that’s for certain is that I’ve seen few things like Rub A Duck. Not since Rude Mechanicals’ Dionysus in 69 have a I felt so shaken by a performance, and if I’m comparing a company to the Rude Mechs, you know we’re talking about something special. Every performer is at the top of their game, showing rare bravery and skill, going the extra limit to leave every bit of blood, sweat, and tears on the floor. Of particular note is Kelsey Oliver as Participant 4, whose ferocious fervor kept the audience spellbound, especially as things spun into pure madness in the play’s later moments, showing full control of every inch of her body throughout, contorting them to horrifying levels.
As I left the performance, it hit me that I didn’t quite know how to review this piece. One of my companions left absolutely inspired, waiting with baited breath for the next Frank Wo/Men show; the other left completely traumatized. One thing that’s for sure, everyone left the show a changed person, and isn’t that what we’re all looking for in art? I for one will be first in line for the next production.
Photo courtesy of Matthew Bradford.