Review by Andrea Bunjamin
A 20th century woman enters the bedroom and sits down in an armchair, facing a modern digital camera. As it flickers to life, a live black and white projection of her appears directly on the centre wall. She begins to speak, and all who bear witness are transported into the mind of the formidable Mary Maclane.
“I am rare, in some ways exquisite……”
“I am dynamic but devastated, laid waste in spirit……”
“I am scornful-tempered and I am brave…...”
Human Days is a frank adaptation of Maclane’s memoirs and follows her 19-year-old self, long before she was known as the first person to break the fourth wall in cinema and an autobiographical pioneer. This show, produced by the Dollhouse Collective’s Jennifer Hart, and directed by Extended Play Co’s Simon Porro, is set during a time when Maclane is still at a loss with her art and its place in the world. A time when a woman’s voice and autonomy to choose are promptly cast aside. A time when the world still has a suffocating say on who you can or can’t love. As the cursive flow of the texts appears across the stage through the production's multimedia effects, we all can get the impression that every line the character utters are Maclane’s words, and her words alone. Retrospectively, fleshed out with an immense level of care and responsibility from everyone involved.
Much praise deserves to be given to the diligent technical team managed by Caity Cowan – for an aesthetically nimble set and videography (Rose Mulcare), singular but distinct sound design (Johnny Yang & Felix Partos), and well timed lighting effects (Capri Harris) to accompany Maclane’s monologues. Without these parallels, each scene would have lacked the momentum to bring her thoughts to life and would have made anything outside the confines of the camera frame uninteresting. Though the only noticeable key room for improvement may be fixing the delays in some visuals and minor inaudible dialogues in pre-recorded footage. Especially, during a particularly ‘devilish’ scene near the end of the show.
Now, it comes as no shock to anyone that in order to make a strong one-woman show based on a real life person, the team really needed to get the casting right. The Maclane in those memoirs was many things – someone who wishes for her art to be understood but to maintain an elusive impression on who she is. She desperately wishes for fame and to be treasured. And a huge shoutout deserves to be given to the team’s dramaturg (Christina McKune) for helping to deliver this tall order. If we hadn’t seen Maclane on stage with the emotional capacity to go from this one extreme to the other it wouldn't have worked.
Enter Tamara Foglia Castañeda. A performer who somehow seems to effortlessly embody all of it. From Maclane’s morbid dance with the Devil, the comedic death of a seven-legged spider in her bath, to her heart wrenching love with the Anemone Lady, Castañeda manages to vividly fill up the room with her acting like a series of resurfacing memories. Her ability to alternate between narrating and enacting Maclane’s words felt like the smoothest plane landing on the tarmac. Despite the small bumps and stumbles in her line delivery along the way, she recovers well. The range in her physicality really shows as her background in dance helped her navigate and interact with the different elements in her surroundings. She isn’t afraid to look the audience dead in the eye during those quieter sombre moments and doesn’t hold back on scaring you during interrogating scenes as well.
Overall, the play reminds its audience about those existential questions we artists keep coming back to, why do we create? Why is it that we have this innate need for our creations to exist outside the confines of our thoughts? To feel less alone? To have even a fraction of ourselves being seen by someone else, no matter how distorted?