Heart of darkness

(In) Sensitivity proves an intimate and visceral experience

In B-Floor Theatre's latest production (In) Sensitivity, directed by Dujdao Vadhanapakorn Boonyai, audience members move from one room to another in single file, like a stream of blood coursing from one heart chamber into another.

And that is what B-Floor Room and Crescent Moon Space _ two performance venues that sit three steps across from each other at Pridi Banomyong Institute _ come to feel like as the performance progresses _ a human heart.

Housed in these chambers are sometimes derelict landscapes, sometimes a cold, clinical box, evocative of post-nuclear war and clone-infested worlds depicted in sci-fi novels and films.

We always walk backward together in and out of rooms with hands on each other's shoulders; in a way, like we're the motion of memories, travelling back from one fragmented and abstract moment to another. Dujdao's work always forces viewers to be close to each other and the performers, but (In) Sensitivity may be her most intimate, visceral creation yet.

The show is not all touchy-feely, though. It reaches its sensitive core by way of violence. (In) Sensitivity begins with an arresting image _ we follow tight chains of elastic bands into a room only to realise that they are attached to the three performers (Dujdao, Ornanong Thaisriwong and Thanapol Virulhakul). Slowly they walk forward, removing their jackets and sending the elastic chains flying towards another room.

There are many images of confinement and release such as this. A performer fights to free herself from an enclosure of light boxes, and when she finally does, her movement transitions from that of a choking body to a wild dance.

The performers are violent to each other and to their own bodies _ overtly and quietly, physically and psychologically. They often wear stunned expressions, move like wind-up dolls, tell themselves that they are alright and push their bodies to perform uncomfortable, even painful, tasks. In a scene evocative of Ibsen's A Doll's House, a woman in a knitted dress forces a smile amid her teary eyes as she climbs, falls and drapes herself over triangular steel structures, and as her dress unravels. Snippets of a female voice consoling herself that she has a happy home can be heard. At another end of her dress is a performer knitting away, oblivious to her sorrow, while another performer follows her, pushing a camera phone close to her face.

In one of the most violent scenes, we enter a room to find the performers on the floor watching videos of executions, massacres and natural disasters.

"What do you feel?" one asks. "Nothing," another answers. They repeat this dialogue as they perform physically violent actions on each other.

The answers begin to change, however, when they put chains of rubber bands around each other's bodies, stretch them across the room and snap them.

"What do you feel?" they ask each other, then, "Where on your body do you feel that?" When they receive the reply _ "fear", "surprise", "relief", "stress" on the back, neck, chest, arm _ they write the word on that part of the body, mapping each other's bodies with emotions. They then involve the audience in their game before turning audience members against each other.

Dujdao has the performers at their most vulnerable in the final scene, where amid the cool, neon lights, they are suspended in uncomfortable positions from the ceiling, clad only in their underwear.

A man with a microphone asks them personal questions, and they answer simultaneously. The spectators are asked to write words expressing emotions on the performers' bodies as they please.

The requested action is intended to encourage empathy but also carries a whiff of exploitation and violence. The performers' answers soon become a jumble as our focus begins to turn more towards their bodies.

Some people scribble words of encouragement, but to mark someone's flesh while their movements are limited is hardly a gentle, nurturing act.

In the past few years, B-Floor has depicted the Thai smile and mai pen rai attitude in the face of violence against fellow humans with humorous and grotesque images. (In) Sensitivity, too, portrays this sort of propriety and nonchalance as vulgarity. Audience participation was also key to Nana Dakin's Damage Joy and Ornanong's Bang La Merd. But even then, the level of involvement among the performers and audience members _ and the request to experience their own and others' vulnerabilities and potential for violence _ never went as far as in this piece.

(In) Sensitivity is more than a statement on self-censorship, emotional repression and lack of empathy because it not only comments on but also accesses emotions. The performers sometimes place the audience in a fragile spot, but they also place themselves in the same place and let the audience take control.

Part of the reason _ a big part _ why the show is so visceral is the stunning production design by Dujdao, along with first-rate lighting design by Tawit Keitprapai, motion graphic design by Taechit Jiropaskosol, sound design by Kamanpat Pimsarn and costume design by Dujdao and Oranong.

In some scenes, the set looks more like an art installation _ the most intriguing and beautiful being the perforated hanging sculptures that later become part of a shadow play. (In) Sensitivity not only provokes and moves us with violence and vulnerability, but also beauty.

(In) Sensitivity continues until Tuesday at 7.30pm, at Pridi Banomyong Institute.
Tickets cost 450 baht. Call 089-167-4039 or email bfloortheatre@gmail.com

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About the author

Writer: Amitha Amranand
Position: Reporter