The opening of A Collection of Lovers is clinical, almost cold: Against a clean white backdrop, wearing a white smock and blue leggings that evoke a doctor’s scrubs, Raquel André recites name after name, accompanied by a stethoscopic, thudding score. These are the names, we soon realize, of the 180 “lovers” that the Portuguese performer has “collected” in her travels around the world: from Portugal, Brazil, Norway, France… Portland.
The official TBA show description provides some context as to what, exactly, this means: “People of all nationalities, genders and ages, agree to meet her in an unfamiliar apartment, to build a fictional intimacy within the span of an hour. Throughout each city she travels, she encounters more lovers and the collection grows. These encounters are documented by photograph....”
Just when the name recitation is starting to feel interminable, André switches gears and begins reeling off statistics: She tells us how many of these people cooked with her; how many hugged her; how many drank tea, wine, beer, or coffee; how many she shared physical contact with; how many touched her hair. As she speaks, we’re shown photos of her and these so-called lovers—in living rooms, kitchens, bathrooms; hugging, showering, laughing, eating.
Before long, the clinical pose broke down to an entirely human one. She tells a story of being invited to watch a Jim Jarmusch movie by a man whose years-long relationship just ended. The film, Strangers in Paradise, was his ex-girlfriend’s favorite movie. She tells us about people who cry, people who gave her gifts, people who talked to her about their own lost loves. She poses questions: What is intimacy, and where does it go? What does it mean to be invited into someone’s home?
André’s stage persona is so compelling that it’s easy to float along on the surface of this production—and on Friday night, the audience responded eagerly to her warmth, vulnerability, and self-deprecating humor. But André’s getting at something deeper here, even if those depths are particularly obscured by the show’s appealing surface. By situating herself as the “collector,” as the one charged with orchestrating these sorta-fictional, sorta-real forays into intimacy with strangers, André elevates herself above her subjects—after all, she’s the one capturing them. She’s the one with control. She’s the one dictating the terms of the engagement. She’s the one giving these people what they want.
But André is not, in fact, above her subjects and the intimacy she provides isn’t quite real. This is ultimately a show about what André takes from these encounters with strangers as much as it’s about what she offers and, by extension, it’s about what we all want, need, offer, and fake in our intimate relationships. André’s awareness of all of this is threaded through the show’s conclusion. By the end, her distance from her subjects is broken down, and the clean and clinical stage is entirely obscured by smoke.
We'll be blogging about TBA 2018 every day of the fest! Keep up with us at: portlandmercury.com/tba