By HOOK SOOK HWANG
MINNEAPOLIS (Sept. 25, 2015) — Ms. Sha Cage performed the Freestyle Theater Production U/G/L/Y at the Guthrie’s Dowling Theater on Friday, was a one-person emotionally intriguing play, born out of her desire to address the emotional impact that identity issues have on women and women of color.
Each year, Americans spend anywhere from 30 to 50 billion dollars on cosmetics alone. Cage’s play addressed ways in which America continues to devalue women of substance, strength and intellect, yet over value distorted body images and unattainable physical appearances.
Cage used technology, creative dance and music to capture autobiographical narratives by an array of women. The women’s stories reflected ways in which having a low self-esteem plagued their progress in life and diminished their true potential. Through spoken word, Cage played a variety of strong willed women, who were torn between a desire to fit in and a desire to be wholly seen for their abilities, talents and positive character traits.
One St. Paul audience member described Cage as a, “ . . . the little girl who fantasizes about being a princess to the women who struggled with relationship violence and even the jealousy of other women . . .” She said, “ . . .the corrupting and corrosive effects of the over focus on physical appearance.”
U/G/L/Y boldly underscored pathology that emerges due to the complexity of oppression, sexism and racism in America. The distinct and nuanced characters Cage played reminded me that one-dimensional views of beauty carry an emotional, spiritual and physical price tag.
Accumulated perceptions about beauty and what’s “normal” (often Eurocentric) continues to undermine girls and women’s human desires to grow. The psychological toll of a superimposed body image on a woman’s identity negatively stunts growth and even leads to emotionally traumatic wounds. The compelling stories told by a broad range of characters personified, led to a reexamination of biases and social norms which continues to create barriers to healthy development.
Similar to Chimamanda Adichie, author and political speaker of, “The Danger of a Single Story,” Cage courageously told multiple stories with varying perspectives. Cage addressed topics that are difficult to discuss and are too often swept under the carpet. Her play reminds me that mainstream America is profiting off the insidiousness of self-hate. Her work creatively addresses that America spends a lot of effort and energy denying the inevitable effects of oppression, discrimination and exclusion.
Sometimes it’s challenging to realize ways in which systems continue to pander to the vulnerabilities of disenfranchised groups of people. However, the dominant feeling that I left with was that of hope.
Despite insurmountable odds, the women Cage portrayed seemed more determined than ever to embrace the hard lessons towards creating a more inclusive, compassionate and less circumscribed future.
The energy Chase exuded on stage towards elevating conscious awareness was amazing. Thick with content, I left enlightened and inspired.
I’m thrilled that the Guthrie Theater had the foresight to host Cage’s play that drew in a racially diverse audience, which is much more representative of the human diversity that exists within the Twin Cities. U/G/L/Y has a significant message for everyone.