A vision of a disturbing, dystopian eco-dictatorship: Daniela Marcozzi’s monstrous

ACUD Theater, Berlin
December 8, 2022

What if we were in a dystopian eco-dictatorship? What if it were possible to have different kinds of pregnancy? What if women could be artificially inseminated with animals, plants, minerals, emotions, natural phenomena and behaviours useful to an eco-regime? Those are the thought-provoking questions that Daniela Marcozzi attempts to answer with her piece, monstrous, inspired by the novel Ad Bestias by Francesca Sarah Toich, who is also the dramaturge of the work.

In Acud Theatre, an intimate venue in Prenzlauer Berg, monstrous played to a small crowd on a wintry Thursday evening. Marcozzi, former environmental biotechnologist, is an Italian theatre performer, director, trainer and researcher based in Berlin, where she founded Marcozzi Contemporary Theater (MCT Company e.V.). Her scientific background is definitely something distinctive and intriguing within the arts.

The piece is somehow informed by the Commedia dell’Arte, with its masks, physical theatre, dance, spoken word and live music. The set is meant to be a reproduction/birth clinic where patients are interrogated but cannot ask questions. Masks, an essential part of the show, conceal the performers and are disquieting. A sense of gravity pervades the first few minutes as a female dancer and man open the show. The movements of her tensed torso are fascinating; as intriguing as the way he motions with his hands, talking and moving with a mask on.

I wish it could have continued in that vein but when new performers – a nurse and doctor – enter, the poetry of the first moment vanishes as a dialogue between the two and monologue by the doctor interrupts the delicacy of the beginning.

The discussion is about two women, one pregnant with a white rhino and the other with algae. The texts are literal; in my opinion too much. They steal any sense of imagination from those watching. The recitation unfolds simplistically, being somewhat a mix between childish and crude acting. If the intention was indeed to reference Commedia dell’Arte, the texts missed the point. I couldn’t detect any irony, shrewdness or guile.

One senses that a dark and unsettling atmosphere is meant to run through the work, but it never quite achieves that. The nurse is intolerant and rigid, there only to obey to the regime. The doctor is an oppressed woman, her cruelty a result of personal dissatisfaction. The woman with the algae in her womb is taken by euphoric excitement. She says she hasn’t showered for many months to save water, and is happy she can finally wash herself at the clinic. She sings, swings and laughs once she gives birth, her algae emerging from her sleeves as she rocks side to side.

Those who spoke to me the most were the dancer pregnant with a rhino, and the man, who had a captivating way of expressing his presence through small yet distinctive movements. She expressively performs the struggle and discomfort contracted in her nervous body. He is calm, maybe disillusioned. At the beginning and end, he plays an electric guitar with some aplomb, producing short degrees of sound but in a detached manner.

There are two other figures. They appear silently, entering and leaving from the side. Ghosts ruling over the destiny of the performers or gatekeepers of the regime, maybe.

While monstrous has disquieting and dystopian imaginary, it is more in theory than in practice. The actors have different identities, shown in various ways, but I found it generally somewhat naive and not sufficiently developed.

Yet, with its peculiar theoretical ideas, it is a piece that has potential. It just needs further, extended artistic investigation. Considering today’s extremely relevant conversation about eco-sustainability and pro-environment political decisions, it would be interesting to see something grow out of it, something that goes deeper in its research, imagination, interpretation and execution; and something hallmarked by better use of artistic craftsmanship.