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What Are They Really Wrestling With?

By: Billy McEntee
Date: May 21, 2018

Experimental theatre-maker Erin Markey explores the nature of intimacy in Singlet


Erin Markey's Singlet is a wrestling match, both literally and figuratively. It features headlocks and takedowns aplenty, but it's the psychological grappling that propels each of the duets in the performer-playwright's daring world premiere at Brooklyn's Bushwick Starr. Just as Jean Genet did with The Maids, Markey -- whose gender pronoun is they -- wanted to plumb the depths of the two-hander form, pushing the boundaries of intimacy between a pair of performers while exploring the erotic underbelly of a variety of relationships. To do that, Markey needed to find the perfect sparring partner.

That's why Markey turned to their longtime collaborator and friend, Emily Davis. "Emily and I met doing a Half Straddle play together," they explain. "Tina Satter's Family -- we were cast as sisters. Emily and I got really tight really fast, as performers and friends."

Their familiarity is well used in Singlet, a cavalcade of vignettes parsing the intense bonds between nonromantic couples. "There's a generosity and depth in how we will allow each other to behave," Markey says. "I wanted to mine and examine, for all its nooks and crannies of emotionality, the dark role-play within relationships and articulate those in various theatrical ways."


In the breakneck one-act play, Markey and Davis embody one tight-knit pair after another by transforming into a slew of disparate characters including teenage BFFs; an alcoholic father and his type-A daughter; co-social studies teachers with more than instruction on their minds; and a high school coach and his infatuated student athlete. Each exchange unearths manipulation tactics and taboo attractions, and allows Markey to play with the vast terrain that is gender identity and expression.

"This show is about your body, which has only been seen in a specific way, and how you're desperate for your body to occupy other roles but don't even know it because you haven't had the chance," says Markey. "What if we force ourselves into different positions and watch our bodies be in conversation with their new scenarios? That's the play."

If this all sounds rather heady, Singlet is admittedly driven by concept rather than plot. It's hard to describe, much like Markey, a queer artist who's best known for their semi-autobiographical alt-cabaret shows which make great use of their huge haunted eyes, growly belt and off-kilter sense of humor. Singlet is a rare nonmusical venture for Markey and has a voyeuristic vibe. At times you feel uncomfortable watching these sketches play out.

And that's totally the point. "Emily and I want the scenes to be so intimate that the audience almost feels like they shouldn't be seeing them," Markey says. "I know Emily so well, and I'm interested in the tension where she as a human being has an emotional relationship to the content that is also being staged. I do that for myself -- that's what makes a live show."

Many of the sequences are punctuated with actual wrestling, giving the emotionally fraught encounters a charged physical catharsis. That's why the performers don the titular outfit for the entire show. "They're super andro," Markey says of the singlets. "The most muscular athletes in the world wear them, and we wear them too. We contain multitudes."


Follow Billy McEntee at @wjmcentee. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.

Top image: Erin Markey and Emily Davis in Singlet. Photos by Sasha Arutyunova.

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Billy McEntee is a freelance writer and arts journalist. He's the Theater Editor of The Brooklyn Rail, instructs with The School of The New York Times and helps promote shows with shorter runs through Staff Picks (@paffsticks).