i was Barbie (venusmachine) – 2010 Summerworks review

by George Perry

Nina i was Barbie (sic) is playing to sold-out houses at Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace.  Nina Arsenault’s one-woman show is one of the most talked about plays at Summerworks.  People seem to love a good freak show.

This monologue runs just over an hour.  It is the story of Ms Arsenault’s one night stand playing Barbie at a red carpet event for Fashion Week.  Actually, it was a “pink 219” carpet event. 

The inner workings of a Barbie party seem as empty and vapid as the doll herself.

Party attendees are portrayed as being as one dimensional as The Simpsons’ “Comic Book Guy”.  Nina paints a vibrant picture of serving cupcakes to the partygoers.  I could practically hear the slick, over-produced fashion journalist describing the sweets.  “Nina Arsenault served pink 219 cupcakes that were to die for!” 

Ben Mulroney plays a big role in the recounting of the party.  He comes across as little more than a stuffed shirt.  That comes as no surprise, since he is a gossip columnist and of course, Brian’s son. 

So why this performance so engaging?  The story itself is not earth-shattering or even compelling.  The video projections are a bit weak.  The theatre was somewhat uncomfortable, cramped and hot. 

What IS jaw-dropping and charismatic as hell is Nina herself.  She makes everyone feel like we are sitting at a private table with her, sharing a drink.

Nina herself is a construction.  She has had sixty surgical procedures to transform herself from a male into what she defines as a cyborg, both an artist and a work of art.  Lisa Marie used to say the same sort of things about Michael Jackson.

Nina didn’t really belong at the party.  The reason is because she is not an empty, vapid shell of a person.  Nina makes the partygoers seem like rubber stamp images.  She makes mention of Andy Warhol paintings.  Nina Arsenault is certainly one of a kind.  She is a massive production, but she is anything but mass produced.

The moral of the story is a familiar one.  Often the people who are labeled as “freaks” are far more human and normal (whatever that is) than people in general.  Some people grow to understand that, others do not.

i was Barbie is playing at Theatre Passe Muraille Backstage
Thur, August 5 4:00 PM
Fri, August 6 10:00 PM
Sun, August 9 6:00 PM
Tues, August 10 8:00 PM
Thur, August 12 6:00 PM
Sat, August 14 2:00 PM
Sun, August 15 8:00 PM

– All individual Summerworks tickets are $10 at the door (cash only)
Advance tickets are $11 ($10+$1 convenience fee)
Tickets can be purchased:
-Online at www.artsboxoffice.ca
-by Phone at 416.504.7529
– in person at the Arts Box Office (located at Theatre Passe Muraille 16 Ryerson Avenue, One
block North East of Bathurst & Queen)
– Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see multiple shows