Presented by ArtsEmerson: The World On Stage
Created by Stein|Holum Projects
Written by Deborah Stein
Directed by Suli Holum & Deborah Stein
Review by Kitty Drexel
Trigger warnings for partial nudity, emotional & physical violence, strong language, and Cup Noodles soup.
(Boston) In The Wholehearted,Dee Crosby (played by the Tilda Swinton-esque Suli Holum) uses antiquated media technology to send a video love letter to her Ex, Carmen. Crosby was a boxing champ in the early 2000’s with a stellar career, a pristine image and what appeared to be a perfect marriage to her coach, Charlie. Unfortunately, Charlie didn’t know how to leave the match in the ring. In her video love letter, Dee relives her most memorable career events deepest turmoils. Creators Holum and Stein show us that assault victims come in all shapes, sizes and definitions of femininity.
This show is a discussion covering many factions of feminism (aside from the obvious issue of assault) such as female gender roles, victim blaming, and male entitlement. They are discussed in no uncertain terms in a manner that behooves the audience to gird their loins in preparation for a full-frontal examination of victimhood. To be clear, this is not an intersectional dialogue the also includes race. Everyone in this show is White but the role of Crosby is written with such depth that she could be played by a POC.
Star and solitary staged character, Dee Crosby displays the classic behaviors a PTSD sufferer and domestic assault survivor. Crosby is a woman trained to fight in a ring but incapable of disabling her attacker outside of it. Crosby rambles to the camera and stalks the stage like caged tiger. The attack has left her unhinged. By immersing herself in this complicated character, Holum blurs the lines between warrior and a victim.
As an actress, Holum stretches herself even farther by tackling the perspective of her attacker. In the country ballad number “Beautiful Girl” she tackles Charlie’s abusive perspective. Charlie describes Crosby as a woman so pretty that he finds her attractive even as he’s beating her to a pulp.
Every spring there are a rash of sexual assaults on women*. For whatever reason, be it naked elbows and ankles or cabin fever, anywhere and everywhere men with poor impulse control lose their damn minds and harass women who dare to step out in public. The offenders think it’s a “compliment;” law enforcement doesn’t think it’s a big deal; women hate it but are used to it. We are used to it because the harassment is so commonplace that we have no alternative. Rather than blame the offenders, society places blame on women. “She probably provoked him,” it says. Yes, if by “provoke” one means “dared to exist in the first place.”
Street harassment is an extension of the same sexism/emotional abuse/gas lighting/microaggressions we face at home, at work and everywhere else. For example, the Sports Industry has only recently featured female experts at games or on sports shows. Women’s sports are not followed with the same intensity as men’s. They do not receive the same funding (even with Title IX). Because they are female, doubt is immediately cast on the women. In a clip from a news interview after the assault, the host asks her why she didn’t fight back. Crosby responds that she fought back by continuing to live. The female host looks at her in disbelief. We have come a long way. We still have a long way to go.
*We can argue that not all men harass women. We cannot argue that all women aren’t harassed.