THE VULGAR EARLY WORKS (Chelsea & Magda): Sex, society, slapstick

Magda San Millan and Chelsea Murphy. Photo by Josh McIlvain..

Magda San Millan and Chelsea Murphy. Photo by Josh McIlvain.

Chelsea & Magda speak directly from their vaginas.

If you’re not into that kind of thing, don’t see THE VULGAR EARLY WORKS, which is playing all weekend at FringeArts.

Smart comedy mixed with a deeply accomplished dance/movement sense; ironic, self-aware pontification; and a thick slather of fresh, crisp feminist sensibility. That’s what Chelsea Murphy and Magda San Millan, known simply as Chelsea & Magda, bring to the stage—along with anger, well-hidden pathos, and a healthy smattering of disgust for their audiences.

Chelsea & Magda are Headlong Institute-trained performers who have been working together and creating irreverent comedy on the edges of dance, music and theater since 2012. THE VULGAR EARLY WORKS is a quick, breezy, and slightly disturbing way to get a glimpse of all of their work to date in just 90 minutes. Their self-reflective, self-conscious, ironic aesthetic bring a few unifying tropes which make this something more singular than cabaret.

We touched It, which I saw at fidgetspace’s Remix Festival last year, opens the night. Magda and Chelsea come out on stage and address the audience. “We thought it was important to talk to you like this,” they say, and begin to discuss their work and how they created it. Meanwhile, they put their hands down their pants—unconsciously, childishly—and begin to feel around down there. Like, really feel around. There’s some serious exploration going on.

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Magda San Millan and Chelsea Murphy in THE VULGAR EARLY YEARS. Photo by Josh McIlvain.

Derp, we think—you fooled us! This is all part of the performance!

They stomp around like Godzilla on Tokyo, still talking in measured tones about their work, then stop, take deep, gruesome whiffs of their hands, and rub ‘em on one-another’s faces. That is the end of We Touched It.

Both the critical and creative apparatuses come with a lot of self-reflective discourse, artist-talk, easily parodied nonsense-sounding words which are deeply useful to artists. As in the pre-show chat of We Touched It, Chelsea & Magda introduce those conversations into the work, and use them as a way to mash together their disparate pieces.

“In that piece,” says Chelsea, “Magda and I are trying to talk from the deepest parts of our vaginas.”

“Feel free to use that as an optional lens as you watch the show,” she adds.

In Singer/Songwriter, two spaced-out singer-songwriters talk about their songs and their creative process in tiny voices, sounding gentle and disconnected. Their songs about self-contradiction, frustration against societal expectations, and self-loathing, are, in contrast, outrageous, unexpectedly angry, and wickedly funny. Unacknowledged and unaccented, beneath almost clownish frivolity, lie more serious issues. She’s a Living Contradiction, which begins about a woman who is both staying at home and going out, both angry and happy, and is told in nonchalant language, eventually describes a rape attempt and the murder of the rapist.

Then they go back to being the tiny-voiced spaced-out singer-songwriters, talking about process.

These little “meta-theatrical” bits pop up rhythmically between the “performances.” Hilarity gets layered on top of discussion-worthy issues like a fatty, delicious salad dressing on a bed of spinach and arugula.

Thus the real question: does the ironic distance which the 1000 Islands provides between artist/eater and the less palatable yet vital vitamin C of the bitter greens invalidate the cancer-reducing effects of the greens?

Does presenting real issues as something separate, divided from the artist and their concerns—the protective distance of humor and ironic, self-aware delivery—invalidate the raising of the issues? Does it weaken or even harm the cause of authentic discourse?

Chelsea & Magda’s work lives on a tricky edge. Consider the sticky, stinky hands of We Touched It. They are living contradictions,themselves: they rub their complex agendas and dirty issues all over our faces, but from they way they present them, we can’t really prove it. [FringeArts, 140 N. Race St.] February 19-21, 2014. fringearts.com.

 

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About the author

Julius Ferraro

Julius Ferraro is a journalist, playwright, performer, and project manager in Philadelphia. He is co-founder of Curate This and editor-in-chief of thINKingDANCE. His recent plays include Parrot Talk, Micromania, and The Death and Painful Dismemberment of Paul W. Auster.