In the wake of the overturning of Roe v Wade in the United States, Hysterical’s timing couldn’t be more poignant. If there was ever a time to find community at a feminist poetry show, it is now. And this charming performance might just help you pick the pieces apart and put them back together again. But if you’ve never been to a poetry show, do not fear! Writers and performers Carrie Rudzinski and Olivia Hall create a welcoming atmosphere and helpfully run through spoken word etiquette.
Rudzinski and Hall invite us into their space and into their lives – literally creating a cozy apartment for them to inhabit on stage and quickly breaking the fourth wall to speak to the audience in between poems. They are excellent performers, unafraid to be raw and honest as they guide us through a rollercoaster of emotions and ideas.
They are excellent performers, unafraid to be raw and honest as they guide us through a rollercoaster of emotions and ideas.
With them we experience anger and hilarity, trauma and healing, a challenge, a love letter, a rallying call. What often ties their poems together is the body – what it is like in this world to exist in a body, a fat body, a feminine body, a body with a uterus. They discuss women’s healthcare right from the get-go, even before they claim their bodies as their own in the poem that responds to reproductive rights (which they explain was written well before the Roe v Wade debacle). Indeed, the show’s title references the centuries-long practice of writing off women’s health concerns and blaming all evil on the little-understood female body.
Hysterical is a nice companion piece and follow-up to their first show, How We Survive, which played at Basement Studio in 2019. For those of us who saw How We Survive, this almost feels like catching up with old friends, seeing what they’ve been up to and mulling over in the intervening years. The two shows are very similar in terms of themes, structure, and emotional journey. I think this formula does work well in creating intimacy with the audience and giving a break between poems to process and reset, which is very welcome especially when it comes to the heavier subject matter. However, I’d be excited to see what these talented performance poets might create when they shake things up a bit.
There are moments when the topics, to me, feel tired – like it’s the same story we’ve heard before. But then the pair remind us of all the unfair expectations still placed on women, of the terrifying decision made by the Supreme Court. Though the mentions of Black Lives Matter and the attack on trans lives felt somewhat on the periphery, and I think there is room to find more complexity and new perspectives within the discourse, I suppose it’s not exactly their fault they’re still talking about the same ideas that were relevant in 2019.
One element that was new was the telephone that sat in the centre of the set. At various intervals it would play messages left for Carrie and Liv by their friends and family. Along with the apartment set – with the armchairs they would sit in between poems, one reading a magazine or writing in a journal while the other was performing – this serves as a reminder that the injustices they describe, the pain and hurt they feel, all exist within the mundane and everyday. But, of course, the voice messages also remind us about love. And it is here that we come to the heart of Hysterical.
At its core, this is a show about love – the love Rudzinski and Hall feel for others, the love others feel for them, the love they sometimes struggle to show themselves and, most of all, the love they feel for each other. Beyond the poem dedicated to their friendship, their love and support for each other drips off every moment. The two are honest with us about how hard performing these poems can sometimes be, but we never feel that they are unsafe. When Liv is trying to hold back tears while the answerphone plays, we see how Carrie is watching her, how she quietly has her back.
At the end of the day, this is a show about two women (two bodies) in particular – their feelings and experiences put gloriously on display. Rudzinski and Hall revel in the messy and chaotic, the ugly and exhausted. They manage to transform rage into comedy that sings with sass. Hysterical is an intimate and emotive piece that inspires a poetic outlook in us, urging us to appreciate all aspects of life, all the moments we are reminded we are alive, and all the people who make it beautiful.
By Erin O'Flaherty
Hysterical plays at Basement Theatre until July 9.