Blending the reverent with the mocking, with a little more emphasis on the mocking, Porno Death Cult draws a line connecting the extreme in every spiritual experience.
Blending the reverent with the mocking, with a little more emphasis on the mocking, Porno Death Cult draws a line connecting the extreme in every spiritual experience.

Inspired by a spiritual pilgrimage, Porno Death Cult encapsulates all religious paths.  Blending the reverent with the mocking, with a little more emphasis on the mocking, it draws a line connecting the extreme in every spiritual experience.

The evening hangs on Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg, and she carries it well.  Friedenberg is an incredibly capable, natural performer, both as an actor and dancer.  While the shifts between monologue and dance weren’t quite as seamless as some of her other work, where the line between dance and physical theatre disappeared completely, both elements were powerful.  The physicalization of her characters is so natural that she pulls it off.

In fact, she even pulls off audience interaction in an (almost) non-terrifying way.  This is, perhaps, in part due to the fact that right from the beginning, the audience is drawn into the work.  At the very top of the show, spotlights pick out random audience members.  It’s a little awkward and uncomfortable, no doubt on purpose, but it’s also a safe way to let the audience know that we don’t get to hide away in the dark this time.  Friedenberg speaks to her audience constantly, at times one-on-one and at other times as a group, and it’s about as comfortable as it can be to get picked out of the crowd.

The main character in Porno Death Cult is Maureen, a frumpy Irish woman desperately seeking God.  Maureen is constantly trying to empty herself in readiness to be filled by the object of her faith, to no avail.  While her seeking seems to currently fall into some extreme form of Catholicism, she references having tried other practices throughout her life.  Her story of seeking is interspersed with the rambling preachings of your typical charismatic televised healer, as well as an overly pious yoga instructor who describes effortlessly birthing a child and then exhaling the 10.5 pounds she gained from her pregnancy – “it’s that easy.  No excuses.”

Through these characters we see the trappings of those who are wrapped up in their own reverence.  Those who speak in absolutes, emphasizing that the only reason why a spiritual practice doesn’t work is due to the failings of the practitioner, and the result this kind of teaching has on a genuine seeker like Maureen.  There is also a humorous similarity in the way they all use sexual language of being penetrated, filled with light/God/Jesus, and experiencing inner vibrations.

Meanwhile, Maureen twitches and convulses through overblown rituals, desperate to obtain the peace and light that these leaders describe.  It is a strange mixture of heartbreaking and hilarious.

The design of the show is simple but evocative – in the set designed by Mickey Meads, a red carpet leads to a doorway, cluttered with images of saints, deities, and corporate products.  James Proudfoot’s lighting unobtrusively underlines the action and gently draws the audience into the action.  The direction by Marcus Youssef was tight and subtle, using Friedenberg’s abilities perfectly.  The only thing that this piece really needed was a clearer tie and softer transitions between the dance and story.

Porno Death Cult is an opportunity to see one of Vancouver’s top dancers perform in a piece of dance theatre that is funny, thought-provoking, and heartbreaking all at once.  Just be ready for your spotlight.

Porno Death Cult continues at the Firehall Arts Centre through March 8, 2014.  Visit http://firehallartscentre.ca for tickets and information.