As a big fan of both feminism and vintage-home appliances, I was really looking forward to watching 30 Bird's latest production 'Domestic Labour: A study in love'. In the play, three women recite the story of a man and a woman and the intricacies of their relationship. The performers speak in the first person as they recount the couple's history. However, the texts are divided between the three women onstage and delivered in that rather distant, somewhat monotone style that says 'WE'RE NOT ACTING! HEY YOU, AUDIENCE, WE'RE NOT ACTING!' Partly for this reason, it was difficult to follow the narrative and to hold onto who was speaking from when and where.
You see, the stories travel across generational and national borders. One moment we are in the couple's modern day suburban home and the next we find ourselves in pre-revolutionary Iran. Well, in fact we never really find ourselves in any of the places presented onstage. The nonchalant traversal of temporal and spatial configurations, in combination with the emphatically non-illusory style of delivery, keeps the audience at arm's length. And from such a distance, it proves challenging to decipher much of a linear narrative.
But no matter, linearity be damned. Who needs a straight-up story when you've got a collection of wonderful retro-home appliances lying around? The show is billed as a collaboration between the writer/director Mehrdad Seyf and the visual artist Chris Dobrowolski, and indeed, it is the visual aspect of the play that really stays with you. Throughout 'Domestic Labour', the performers use their collection of vintage vacuums, bicycles, and other white goods to stage stunning-steam-punk tableaus of domesticity. The thing is, it takes a lot of work for them to build these fleeting moments of beauty.
The three women onstage spend most of their time pushing around the vacuum cleaners, plugging in their lightbulb helmets, fitting the bicycle wheel into the re-purposed radiator, etc. And it makes you wonder, is it really worth it? And perhaps this is the point. You are reminded of all the women, all across the globe, who perform that domestic labour day after day. You think of all the women you know, who spend years on end cleaning the same floors and folding the same laundry and, if you're lucky, you can think of some who do it out of love. Because the play's title is true, domestic labour can be a study in love.
As anyone who has tried it knows, to 'keep house' means so much more than just cooking and cleaning. To create and maintain a family home is undoubtedly a creative act that takes commitment, diligence, talent, and most of all, love. Because those fleeting moments of beauty in life, those take a lot of work, a truth that is adeptly represented in 30 bird's staging of the show.
But where, I wondered in my viewing of the performance, where is the love? I see the domestic labour. I see the inter-generational and cross-national complications. I see three women who are constantly kept busy with the seemingly mundane tasks of the everyday. But why? Why do they keep performing for us with so little passion. Is this what's come of feminism? No. It can't be. It can't be that after all these years of fighting for equality, we are still helplessly relegated to the realm of the domestic sphere, can it?
Those women onstage, why don't they stop vacuuming, I thought. Why don't they say something unexpected. Please, I pleaded with them in my imagination, just laugh too loud or make a mistake or fart or do something, anything, that tells us you are real!!!! But they didn't. They stayed steely and continued to perform their domestic labour. A shame really, because they seemed so smart and talented. They just never showed us the love.