Being a woman means living experiences that are both unique and universal. Now You See Her looks at several aspects of womanhood and how they intertwine as six women share their stories and the systems that work to stifle them.
The production, put on by Canadian theatre company Quote UnQuote Collective, was co-founded by Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava, who also created the company’s first show, Mouthpiece, in 2015. A trailblazing theatrical performance “about an aspiring writer attempting to reconcile her feminism with the conformist choices of her mother following her mother’s sudden death,” according to TIFF’s website, Mouthpiece went on tour around Canada, the United States and Europe, and was later adapted into a feature-length film.
Now You See Her, Quote UnQuote Collective’s latest show, provides exceptional storytelling, musical performances and intricately-woven narratives in one well-rounded production. Although the show tackles many issues at once, it doesn’t feel as though the play is overwhelmed with information.
Actors Nostbakken, Sadava, Raha Javanfar, Lisa Karen Cox, Cheyenne Scott and Maggie Huculuk contribute different yet powerful narratives to the stage. The show opens with five women laying in child birthing positions while Javanfar plays the ukulele, leading them through the creation of woman as they quiver and pulse until they rise from the ground. Throughout the show, the women utilize the entire stage with song, dance and monologue to push the plot forward and engage the audience.
Although there were several stories being told at once, it never felt like one took away from another. Sadava struggles with motherhood and the regret that sometimes comes with having a child; Nostbakken is a notable scientist who, despite her intelligence and hard work, is constantly belittled in her male-dominated field; Cox confronts her identity as a black woman even amidst pop-star fame; Scott plays an Indigenous woman whose story intensifies as she narrates the harsh realities of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
The play’s serious tone is balanced with appropriately-placed comedic moments. Veteran actor Huculuk brings a funny edge to the production as a 64-year-old journalist who is openly fed up with the patriarchy and society’s expectations of women, particularly as they age.
As the play cycles through the seasons, starting with spring and ending with the following spring, each woman’s story reaches a climax, emotionally encapsulating the audience. Combined with musical numbers and interpretive dance pieces, the show is captivating from start to finish. The consistent use of nude and neutral colours combined warm lighting creates an intimate feeling and a soft aesthetic that juxtapose harmoniously with an otherwise heavy plotline.
By breaking the fourth wall and even handing props and microphones to front row audience members, Now You See Her proved its ability to defy theatrical norms. Despite the choice to not use a detailed set design, the actors did more than enough with their voices and bodies to deliver a message and represent their intricate female experiences.
The strengths of Now You See Her lie within its exploration of the layered complexities of womanhood. While the show touches upon issues women deal with every day like periods, crushes, learning to walk in heels and self-confidence, the production also ventures into the depths of female identity that often aren’t brought to light. Now You See Her honours female narratives and represents the many layers of womanhood no matter how scary, challenging or beautiful they may be.
Now You See Her is playing at Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre until Nov. 4. Tickets can be found here.