“It’s nice to be documented, right?”
Tim Cowbury and Jessica Latowicki, a couple in real life, are hosting a performance of their relationship and we are the pawns…errr…the audience in their game. But this is far from a literal reenactment. Rather they playfully explore authorship, control, and fantasy in their show Tonight I’m Gonna Be the New Me as we are left pondering where the lines between reality and fiction fall.
With teasing, half-truths, arguments, and exaggeration, Jess is the only one on stage. Tim is a constant but remote presence. She says he wrote this show, “sort of.” She claims that Tim is taking notes at the back of the room on us (and he does pipe up from behind the audience to shout some notes for her). She’s already danced herself into a sweaty frenzy on stage for us. But who made her do that? Is she on display, in sparkly hot pants, in a box, because she put herself there or because it was written that way?
Tonight I’m Gonna Be the New Me toys with who is in control throughout. Jess has audience members parrot lines she feeds them. After Tim leaves the room, Jess hijacks “Tim’s” script and spoils the surprise that Tim has written. Bits of the story repeat in cycles (with subtly shifting lighting to indicate these units of the story). The obviously fake story within the show lionizes Tim and makes Jess look a little superficial. Tim is a selfless character. If he’s the fake author then it suggests he’s cast this beatific light upon himself…which is the greatest bit of egoism. But it’s Jess who has told us of Tim’s authorship. Is she lying to make herself more sympathetic? Who is to be believed?
And so we engage with this true couple under false pretenses. Tonight I’m Gonna Be the New Me is funny, dark, and more than a little bit hostile. Jess and Tim needle each other. They query each other. “Why do you cry all the time?” asks Tim. “Why are you so non-committal?” barks Jess. Did they really have an argument over whether Tim packed enough pants?
The unsettling feeling created in the show is not terribly unlike the one I had this morning as I was trapped between a couple arguing at a cafe over their breakfast orders. As they sniped at each other across the room, I patiently waited for my latte. I felt like the inadvertent audience to their domestic squabble. The run-off of other people’s tension can be more acute if you are particularly susceptible to absorbing the animosity of others; acting as empathy gutters on the rooftops of other people’s relationships.
Tonight I’m Gonna Be the New Me plays with that private dispute becoming public fodder. “Do you really want to do this in front of anyone?” Jess asks Tim with more than a healthy dose of antagonism. The drama here comes from wondering how much of this is intimate relationship laundry being aired or not.