Fringe review: The Merkin Sisters

Ingrid Hansen and Stéphanie Morin-Robert in The Merkin Sister. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls,

The Merkin Sisters (Stage 1, Westbury Theatre)

What is art? ask the fractious siblings jockeying for stage supremacy in this raucously inventive satire of contemporary performance art.

The Merkin Sisters (Ingrid Hansen and Stéphanie Morin-Robert, expert physical comedians both) have already prowled the audience at the outset, silent and unsmiling in bathing suits and rubber bathing caps. And they’ve grimly dispensed questions on tiny pieces of paper. “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done to a sibling?”

Then they’ve repaired to the stage and arranged themselves on beach towels. “Some people ask us why we do what we do. (pause). And what it is we do do….” Portentous whispering ensues.

Ah yes, Art, the ultimate question and the ultimate answer. “What if … your art could last forever?” “What if your art had no name?” “What if your art sold for 20 bucks?” The Merkins brainstorm by artful free-association. And what if your art was a riotous attack on upper-case Art … like The Merkin Sisters?  

The Merkins, paid-up members of the fierce artistic élite, don’t skimp: every known theatrical device is included in their pièce de résistance. There’s artsy puppetry; a white glove pops out in a birth scene. There’s a balletic pas de deux;  there’s a dance in which they bounce off each other’s blow-up balloon bellies. The masturbation sequence has flowers, and a song. The visuals are dominated by hair, lots of it: head wigs that grow into full body wigs, pubic wigs that erupt out of bathing suits, hair balls that get born and grow up.

Naturally, there’s audience participation. The Merkins are imperious and hard to please. “Could the audience please make the sound of waves? And a seagull?” We oblige. “NO! Just one seagull!” Occasionally sibling rivalry can’t be contained by the avant-garde. “Why do I always have to play the vagina?” asks one sister, sulking. Answer: “You have the bigger mouth.”

Hansen and Morin-Robert, who separately have other shows at the Fringe (Instellar Elder and Blindside respectively), are fearless and funny. They’ve evidently seen one too many self-important pieces of Art. This one’s revenge, and it’s teasingly baffling. A show to be savoured by the adventurous Fringe-goer. 

As seen at the Winnipeg Fringe.

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