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Originally published Friday, April 5, 2013 at 1:23 PM

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At On the Boards: Young Jean Lee bares notions of identity

A review of Young Jean Lee’s “Untitled Feminist Show,” which explores gender roles, politics and fluidity. Through April 7, 2013, at On the Boards in Seattle.

Special to The Seattle Times

PERFORMANCE REVIEW

‘Untitled Feminist Show’

By Young Jean Lee. Through April 7 at On The Boards, 100 W. Roy St., Seattle, $25; (206-217-9888 or ontheboards.org)

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Six naked performers, an electrifying sound design, and a dramatic video come together in “Untitled Feminist Show” to create a stunning night at On The Boards. Young Jean Lee, the award-winning playwright and director who conceived this show (and who grew up in Pullman), has been called “the most adventurous” and “one of the best playwrights in America.” This production gives ample proof of her talent.

It begins from the back of the auditorium where the six nude cast members slowly descend the steps. The only sound is their synchronized breathing. Once on the bare stage, the female bodies begin to move. This show is all about movements that range from beautiful balletic turns and leaps to vicious aggressive encounters. There are no words (except one song in Welsh), just sound and movement through which much is implied, and much is very, very funny.

The cast brings various talents to the production: theatre, modern dance, ballet, comedy, musical theatre, and performance art. All of these are seamlessly woven together in this dramatic collage.

The ensemble work is stunning. We see children playing, housewives doing chores; wild cannibalistic creatures; women growing old, growing jaded, or joyously embracing life; and so much more. The cast begins to giggle; the giggling becomes uncontrollable; then the bodies begin to jiggle; the jiggling increases in intensity until finally the movement is overpowering.

Each performer also has individual highlights. Becca Blackwell as a temptress morphs into a jaunty boxer. Hillary Clark provides a wild primordial display that could be Dionysian abandon or just madness. Katy Pyle and Malinda Ray Allen dance like daughters of Terpsichore. Desiree Burch, best known in other venues for her vocal roles, here communicates entirely with pantomime. Amelia Zirin-Brown (aka Lady Rizo) is an outrageously vulgar flirt whose mimed sexual acts are made even better by her lascivious facial expressions.

During the production, the performers and the playwright want you to provide meaning, even insist that you do. Most of us come into the theater with assumptions about people, gender, beauty, and appropriate roles. Here these assumptions are challenged.

Above and behind the performers is a kaleidoscopic video projection attuned to the emotional merry-go-round on stage. The musical score that mixes classical works with heavy metal and electronic pieces beautifully matches the performers’ movements and the concepts within them.

This is indeed a celebration of women, but most importantly, it’s a celebration of life.

Nancy Worssam: ngworssam@gmail.com

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