Ritual and Momentum at the End of the World Apr 27, 2018
By Ryan Diaz
A response to Frank Boyd & Libby King: Patti & The Kid (Apr 12–15 at On the Boards)
In Patti & The Kid by Frank Boyd, Libby King, and Maya Flory-Barnes Salas, the power of ritual and the inevitability of momentum intersect amidst a landscape where both have wrought their havoc. How each character inhabits the conditions of this new, post-apocalyptic world depends on their relationship to loss, their connection to the world that was and the world as it is.
As carpet squares bloom open to an artificial morning light, two vagabonds lifted straight out of the American wild west emerge with their anachronistic belongings. Their demeanor and silence suggests the weight of drudgery and survival. They treat the black marley of the stage like a children’s game where the floor is lava, leaving it up to the limitless imagination of the audience to consider the conditions of their existence. What might have upended the great American experiment leading to a periphery existence, life literally lived on the edges? Economic upheaval, climate change, a disastrous election, whatever it might have been, it’s not lost that one could find familiar imagery while passing the tent cities that rise in the pockets of urban hubs today.
Patti and the Kid lovingly tend to a lone tree in the background while encouraging each other to go through the motions of a new day complete with coffee, exercise, and shooting practice. Eras of American excess and exceptionalism exist simultaneously: manifest destiny and westward expansion, late 20th century physical culture, rubbish from the dawn of the internet age. Their islands are precious like homes, possessions made more personal from want and lack. I remember my immigrant family’s tendency to hoard, how somewhere in my parents’ immaculate home is a box full of old computer hardware, calendars from years long since passed, articles that anchor us to our place in the world, give us permanence and ownership in a state of constant change. A world where the fear that it can all be taken away at a moment’s notice is all too real.
Their rituals look like play: nerf guns shooting wind up toys and tissue paper fluttering in the air, competitive jazzercise as an old-fashioned (old being relative here) narrator sings out steps so saccharine you can all but see the permanent smile on her face. They even journal. But what in this world is worth a “Dear Diary”? What can be new when the future seems lost?
Enter Tammy, played by Maya, a young black girl with a sweet voice and a matter-of-factness that only exists in children. As she enters, the rules of the world onstage and audience assumptions are upended. The adults are shocked as she casually walks up to the carpet squares with no regard for the supposed lava. Tammy speaks when the only human voice heard up until that point emerged from cassette tapes. She has a mother who’s already fed her, so she isn’t hungry when Patti offers food. She pierces their rituals as a new variable and the audience realizes Patti and the Kid’s drudgery wasn’t static — perhaps it wasn’t even dire — we were simply on the train cart with them not noticing the scenery changing outside the windows. A perspective shift out of the mouths of babes.
After Tammy leaves, Patti and the Kid each take turns speaking directly to the audience. Through monologues they share moments from their lives before this new world order — addiction, sports games, disappointment, witches, loss, families, and even children. Patti says that she only drinks chardonnay because it reminds her of someone. Rituals connect us to the past and more immediately to the people we’ve known. Through repetition we might connect with what was lost. Bitter taste in our mouths be damned. What is our inheritance after the world moves on without us? What if we’re not ready? What do we pass on for the next generation to grapple with? Did we only pass down problems we couldn’t handle ourselves?
The end of the performance is all about The End, micro and macro and back again. As the stage darkens, Patti and the Kid immaculately clean and pack away their belongings. Kid lobs a bag of trash into the void and it lands with a muffled thud. Patti suggests they could hang themselves from the tree with her belt, a plan that falls through even after Kid gamely goes along with it before resigning themselves to sleep off their botched suicide. Patti takes a tentative step onto the marley and at least one audience member gasped in shock.
Tammy returns with a lantern, asking if she can play here as the two adults roll up in their carpet square bedrolls. There are days when I wake up and realize how much momentum there is in the world, days when I look at my own childhood and the children I know and I wonder what the world will look like for them. Will they know fear like I know fear? Are all children innocent when some children are forced to grow up sooner than others — children who are taught how not to get shot, children who keep their citizenship silent, children who know they are different and must be brave? Tammy reinforces what kids have been saying all along, what every adult once knew when they themselves were children: take kids seriously. The world is now theirs.
Remember the moving train, how pacing the aisle feels like you’re going nowhere but from the outside you’re always moving forward? Maybe that’s what children know better than adults. Their innocence isn’t born of ignorance for the world as it was but from a clear-eyed acceptance of the only world they’ve ever known. They don’t know how the world will end, only how to keep it spinning, how the body doesn’t have to move like it’s exercise, but like it’s dancing.
Ryan Diaz is a Filipino designer, writer, activist, and Celine Dion superfan. Boogies with Au Collective, teaches social justice-centered self-defense.
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