If there were such a thing as a theatrical green beret, Ursula Martinez would be one. Special forces. A crack (no pun intended) troop. Courageous hardly seems an adequate descriptor for her no-holds-barred, soul-baring, confessional theatre. All the snippets of truth are palpably real. They’ve that familiar ring. Not a word of a lie.
The stage of the Sydney Opera House studio has been configured such that it stretches right up to the bank of seats. The depth of the space is largely superfluous, other than to the extent of propagating the notion we’re about to partake in a corporate seminar, if the lecterns on either side are anything to go by.
Ms Martinez appears in a smart business suit, comprised of figure-hugging skirt and jacket, hair pulled back. She patiently, or patronisingly, explains that the show is, sensibly, divided into two sections: “my stories, that will be revealed over there” and “your emails, that will be divulged over there”. She points to opposite sides of the space. She then proceeds to the former lectern and begins reading from a folder full of vignettes from her life. Most are uproariously funny. But just when she has you on a roll, folding up in rollicking laughter, she utters something out of kilter, something biting, poignant, tragic, sad, or just nondescript and emotionally uncertain or impenetrable. These are live, standup tweets: short, sharp jots and jabs that reveal, individually and in toto, a surprising wealth of insight into her attitudes, fears, insecurities, family and society. This is Ursula nude, without taking her clothes off.
Before she moves onto ‘our’ emails, she punctuates the show with an excellent short film that made it’s way, almost inevitably given the content, into the cyberverse, catapulting her to untold celebrity. It comprised footage of a striptease she performed in France and captures precious reactions from her audience. When I say striptease, one needs to divest the word of all its sleazier, sexualised connotations, as well as the wilder, even more risque, fantastical allusions present in the best burlesque: this is all about wit, with the emphasis on tease; the strip is almost incidental. Almost.
The emails were sent, almost to a man by men, in response to her brief, but revealing cinematic exposure and are in no way an advertisement for the male gender. They reveal an abject lack of intelligence, a paucity of perceptiveness, that is almost suicidally depressing. Martinez zeroes in on the likely accents of her lascivious fans, who hail from Spain, Argentina, the US, Britain, Australia and Sweden. Many have sent her photos, some only of overestimated penises, which she displays, larger than life, in a Powerpoint presentation to end all Powerpoint presentations.
Maybe the first one that has real power and a real point. One suspects she has worn these responses, this unwanted attention, with as much grief as good humour: that one should write and perform such fiercely parodical, multifaceted work, deploying so many skills, so much energy, heart and soul, that it should be so emboldened and brave, physically, emotionally and spiritually, only to have the irony absolutely lost on so many slathering, sex-surfing webcrawlers, is dispiriting in excelsis.
As a fearless, uncompromising self-portrait, this is almost high art, albeit suing different tools, media and modes than we are used to associating with such a term. It is philosophy and sociology, politics, pride and prejudice, drama and tragedy, as much as comedy. It presses buttons which impel the sensible and sensitive to consider questions of vacuousness of fame; of disengagement, loneliness and depravity not invented, but arguably fostered, by the interweb. And many others besides. It touches more bases in 70 tight minutes, with infinitely more subtlety and poignancy, than some playwrights or novelists do in a lifetime.
In stripping away layers of apprehension and pretension to confess her own story, Ursula Martinez lays us bare as well. Nothing is hidden from view. Nothing is covered up. She’s an emotional naturalist. The Margaret Mead of magic. The Simone de Beauvoir of strippers. The Coco Chanel of comedy.
At first glance, it might look like sheer, outrageous fun. But when you look through the sheer fun, you’ll easily discern some really sad indictments of our humanity. Or lack thereof. The cloak of decency, too often, rests not upon us, but finds us naked. The glimpse of Ursula’s minge might be welcome, if gratuitous. But an up-close and personal look at our own nether regions is a rather darker contemplation.
My Stories, Your Emails is a work of intensive, unmitigated genius.
The details: My Stories, Your Emails is playing the Studio at the Sydney Opera House until December 4. Tickets on the Opera House website.