The Postergirl for Cyborg Beauty, Arsenault Impresses in “The Silicone Diaries”
Dec 13. 2010
By: Michael Bou-Younes
As the audience gathers their seats, a looped video of gloved hands fondling a silicone breast implant plays on the projected screen that doubles as the stages background. An ominous, low based, deep-toned ambient noise fills the theatre in sequence with a rolling cloud of dry ice. Carefully placed stiletto boots slowly creep out of the darkness and a six foot plus silhouette stands unabashed at center stage. Our first introduction to writer/actress Nina Arsenault is something out of a science fiction movie; the escape hatch of a futuristic spaceship opening to reveal a certain kind of cyborg-beauty never before seen. The Silicone Diaries is indeed surreal and sleek, however at its core it is a production about the nature of beauty, and the thin line between the pursuit of perfection and unhealthy obsession.
Presented by Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Silicone diaries is the biographical chronicles of the life of Nina Arsenault and the sixty plus operations she endured to transform from an ordinary man to an extraordinary woman. Directed by Brendan Healy, the diaries start with humble beginnings in a Manitoba Zellers, a young boy becomes hypnotized by the dead gaze of an unclothed mannequin. Obsessed with every curve of the figure’s hips and thighs, the boy stares deeply at the lifeless effegy knowing that is exactly what he wants to look like when he grows up. A multimedia slideshow follows the boy through his adolescent years, and through the quickly spliced images we notice a tendency for cross-dressing and ever lengthening hair; the desired transformation has begun.
Botox is injected, a scalpel makes its first incision, noses are chiseled, rib-cages are filed down like fingernails and the audience is spared no gory detail in the rebirth/creation of Nina Arsenault. Clips of the process are gruesomely displayed on the stage’s backdrop, and I’ll be quite honest in saying I covered my eyes on more than one occasion. As difficult of a pill as this is to swallow, Aresenault is making the point that if this is so excruciating to watch, imagine having to endure that kind of torture. The artist has clearly suffered for the sake of her art, and it just so happens that her body has become the canvas. However, the line between the pursuit of perfection and unhealthy obsession is paper thin at best, and as Nina considers black-market Botox injections and shady unregulated Mexican surgical procedures, the audience begins to see a women so enamored by a concept of absolute beauty that she will endure anything to achieve it, or die trying.
Trevor Schwellnus’ work as lighting and stage director was enchanting with a deliberate purpose, predominantly lit from beneath, Arsenault is put on a pedestal, shining like a diamond necklace in a glass display case. Sharp overhead lights work to create defined shadows on the stages backdrop, punctuating the femininity of Nina’s curves while directly addressing her obsession with perfecting the projected image on the mirror-like wall.
Arsenalt’s performance is breathtaking and tragically self-aware, conducting her dissertation in a sultry, monotone voice that is somehow a beautiful meld of a late night call girl and a cool handed surgeon conducting an open-table lecture. Due to convenient seating arrangements, I think Arsenault caught my discomfort with the subject matter early on, directly trapping me in several eye to eye staredowns, as if to assert the kind of alpha-dog power she was capable of destroying men with. Nina asserts herself with the powerful aura of Aphrodite and the cutting unforgiving gaze of Cleopatra, and once again I was forced to avert my eyes, simply too overwhelmed to properly consume the devastatingly electric performance taking place on stage. Very rarely would I use the word uncomfortable to give positive praise to a performance, however Nina’s skillful projection of her twisting and intricately structured sentences is more numbing than a double dose of local anesthetic. The Silicone Diaries plays until December 11th at the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre