Neal Medlyn, Carmine Covelli, and Farris Craddock in … Her’s A Queen, photo by Yi-Chun Wu
The press materials for Neal Medlyn’s …Her’s a Queen, which premiered at Dance Theater Workshop on Thursday evening, came in a folder with a picture of two kittens on the front, sitting in a field of flowers and grass. Although the folder was probably in a pile of leftover back-to-school supplies at Duane Reade, Medlyn’s choice was certainly not a careless, last-minute one. The kitten folders – part of a Mead series called “Purrs & Grrrs” – were merely an introduction to Medlyn’s exploration of the struggle to attain purity and innocence in a ruthless, media-crazed world. …Her’s a Queen was much more than a commentary on the rise and fall of Britney Spears, the fifth pop icon that has been the subject of his work. It was also a messy, genuine offering from Medlyn himself on coping with loneliness, emptiness, and existential crises.
The piece occurred roughly in reverse chronological order, beginning with the destroyed, reckless Britney (portrayed by Medlyn) that tabloids depend on for sales. Distorted lyrics and melodies from her songs could be heard, with Medlyn fittingly starting with lyrics from “Everytime”: “Notice me. Take my hand. Why are we strangers when our love is strong?” A continuous photo shoot reflected the paparazzi craze, and as the photographs were projected onto the scrim, they revealed how a viewer can easily piece together a few moments caught on camera and create a fictitious story. How alienated and misunderstood these pop personalities are.
Carmine Covelli and Neal Medlyn, photo by Yi-Chun Wu
Yet, Medlyn “wants to be pure like milk”, and as the piece progressed, he attempted to pull his life – and Britney’s life – together, to return to a state of innocence and purity, and to forget everything that drove him away from innocence in the first place. Carmine Covelli played several roles, all of which aimed at feeding Britney’s hunger for purity and happiness. He served as Britney’s baby, Britney’s conscience, a puzzling bear, and a figment of her imagination. Covelli and Medlyn’s twisted interactions involved arguing, flattering, attempts at forgetting what they had just discussed or forgetting the night before, and a continuous return to an awkward entanglement on the floor. No matter how long they remained in their uncomfortable embrace, it was clear that it couldn’t provide any lasting comfort. And the “non-sexual cuddling party”, which involved audience participation, was suddenly dismissed by Medlyn as being too overwhelming, claustrophobic, and reminiscent of past experiences. “I was happier when I didn’t remember anything at all”, he said. Thus, the party guests departed and solitude prevailed.
Medlyn shed Britney’s glamorous, sugar-coated exterior to reveal hidden layers of vulnerability, isolation, and pain. Indeed, he was often fumbling towards self-destruction as his body writhed and his voice transformed Britney’s pop sensations into angst-filled rages. Just when it seemed as though he were drowning in a pool of delusion and alienation, quiet was restored, until the cycle repeated itself and he did it again. Medlyn ended where the Britney phenomenon began, by ironically announcing “I’m not that innocent”, from her first hit single, “Baby One More Time.” The endless cycle is sad, painful, and tragic. Perhaps more than anything, it is inescapable.