Ivana Müller places her finger on the sore spots of our information culture

Sander Hiskemuller

The characters in ‘Working Titles’ by Ivana Müller do not speak. That’s only obvious, given the absence of a head and the fact that they are dolls.  Nevertheless the life-size identity-lacking manikins come to life, albeit in a way that continually shifts our perspective and dissects our desire for meaning.

The manikins named Adam, Eva, João, Tina, Tom, Vicky and Zoé are carried on and off stage by four performers. Dialogues, descriptions and subtext are projected onto the backdrop and guide our imagination as ambassadors for an authoritarian kind of language state. We read that ‘Adam’ works in the textile industry, does not drink (during the daytime) and struggles with overweight. All the manikins get their exposé in this way, in the same crude outline that is routinely applied in film or TV scenarios. To a ridiculous extent, the dolls are ‘characterized’ by descriptive epithets: Vicky-model-turns-testy-without-her-afternoon-catnap.

But of course, the manikins remain dolls: empty shells onto which we project and more precisely want to project all sorts of things, as Ivana Müller demonstrates. It’s unsettling when according to the supertitles the dummies turn out to ‘be’ something we never ‘saw’ in them. It’s confronting where that involves race, for instance.

Conceptual theatre maker and festival darling Ivana Müller places her finger with ironic distance on the sore spots of our information culture: how do we let ourselves be manipulated when it’s about ‘meaning’, or by extension: about our reality? The eight scenes of ‘Working Titles’ are introduced by a ‘meaningful’ working title that announces the progress. Time indications are given, meetings and conflicts suggested: preludes to romance, drama, even a terrorist attack. The ‘narrative’ is presented on stage without much ado as the language stereotypes are ironically stripped away. The ‘attack’ consists in nothing more than a set of dolls strewn across the floor and a performer adding name signs.

It is beautiful how Müller creates a multi-layered interaction between doll and performer, only to break it down straightaway. Of course we expect a relationship between the doll and the performer guiding it. But the performers are mere operators serving as ‘park benches’. At the same time the performer shows himself to be omnipotent, by bringing a doll into the ‘narrative’ or by arbitrarily removing it.

The interchangeability of manikin and performer reflect Müllers all too nihilistic motives, which strike home, however, because they are consistently maintained in a bone-dry manner. The same is true of the humour that keeps the face in laughing mode for the full hour. It is only that not much magic survives such a dissection of suggestion. It certainly makes a point; but is a little disappointing, too.

[TROUW  11-03-10 page 32]