On the night of Tuesday, Sept. 20, Obie Award-winning performer Winsome Brown held the first performance of her one-woman show, “Hit the Body Alarm,” at The Performing Garage. Before this, her solo endeavor titled “This is Mary Brown,” also performed and written by Brown, was warmly met by the public and critics. Expectations for this performance were therefore understandably high.
As the venue’s name so vividly indicates, the stage was a large garage area with concrete floors. The set consisted primarily of sheets of plastic draped from the ceiling at various heights. The aesthetic initially brought to mind scenes from the Showtime crime-thriller “Dexter.” But later, once the performance had gotten into the thick of the narrative, the sheets of plastic came to be the perfect tool for fluid scene change. More than that, they left the exact settings of the play somewhat vague, leaving it to Brown’s impressive storytelling to flesh out the images for the audience.
The lights dimmed suddenly and a brightly colored geometric image was projected onto the plastic. The next hour of performance was one of the most intense encounters anyone could ever have the pleasure of experiencing.
This vivid performance was built primarily from sound design and music as well as Brown’s performance in the monologues, which included text from John Milton’s classic novel “Paradise Lost” and James Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” The best description for the music would be ambient noise or shoegaze, but also harsher sounds that were more aligned with black metal. Sound designer Sean Hagerty created the sonic landscape, and also performed live on an electric violin. The music as a whole paired perfectly with Brown’s presence on stage. The songs echoed Brown’s physicality with eerie resemblance: at times she’d squat, legs wide, and seem to be challenging the audience, and the music would do the same. Viewers visibly squirmed — in the best way — at these moments of aggressive, emotional affect.
Brown has an amazing ability to put on accents and movement style, which completely leave her behind and present only the character she intends to portray. She went from being Satan in the moment of his fall from Heaven, to inmates, to a failed actress, to Eve before she fell into temptation. Through each of the characters, Brown explored ideas of prison, freedom and choice, which were remarkably relevant to the current social climate. This was the kind of piece which is meant to leave the audience still mulling over it in the train ride home, wondering about the choices of the characters and the clear message about the choices we make in the daily comings and goings of life.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 26 print edition. Email Arimeta Diop at [email protected]