The stage is set like this: Upstage center there is a piano, a synthesizer and six paper airplanes hung on the wall, a brown glass bottle of beer on the table. At the onset of Field Dressing—Tricklock's latest production, offered up as a limited run after sold out performances during the troupe's Revolutions Festival—the stage is dark. Actress and playwright Hannah Kaufmann takes stage right in the opening scene, her clipped speech accentuating her spotlighted body as an original score by Kyle Wayne Ruggles kicks in on the synth.
Soon, the stage lights illuminate the scene. Kaufmann, in a cowl neck and jeans, is causal, unassuming ... save for the pair of horns springing from her crown, that is. Field Dressing emerges as the story of a young woman named Violet Francis, whose body is a spectacle, who is made to feel like a visitor in her own life. Her antlers—which branch from her dark hair beautifully, deer-like—begin to grow at the age of 14. Their genesis happens as she is walking home and a man in a green sedan begins to yell at her all those disgusting come-ons that most women are familiar with. A blinding headache is triggered, and soon, 14-inch antlers replete with her veins, her blood, coursing through them, have grown.
Under constant scrutiny from a young age, Violet learns how to make herself as invisible as possible. She receives insistent correspondence from pornographers begging the question: Are you ready to be an object of desire? Stalker-ish letters fly in, too, scrawled (and read by Kaufmann, assuming a monotone voice, an impish posture) with demands: I need to meet you to know whether or not it is worth it to for me to continue my obsession. Again and again, Violet is reminded that, as a woman—particularly as a woman who stands apart from the crowd—that her body is not her own. Violet's is a particular experience that signifies something universal. After all, many women are familiar with the persistent need to reassert our bodies as our own.
With an expertly (and unexpectedly) integrated hand puppet, Violet is introduced to love. Perhaps this is the antidote to her alienation? Instead the peripheral attention is too much for lover, and hurt, Violet becomes wild. It is interesting in these scenes, to consider the antlers—are they a stand-in for her femininity? Perhaps something else—the fleeting experiences that makes us separate from others made manifest? Or maybe they are a stand-in for the thing that makes us wonder, as Kaufmann asks herself, “What have I done to deserve this life?”
It seems there are a multitude of meanings that these antlers can assume. That can lead to some muddy and uncertain explanation, so I'll stop right there. What is clear is that Field Dressing is a powerful commentary on what it means to be a woman, yes, but also on how we choose to experience what we have, the stories that we tell ourselves to explain why we are here, why we are this way. The story—skillfully entwined with a live score, its expertly utilized props and stage space (the direction of Juli Hendren can be thanked), and Kaufmann's well-timed and written words—is one that is thought-provoking and, touchingly, achieves the heights it promises. A pitch-perfect ending that won't be spoiled here, is hopeful without undercutting the heft of the subject matter. This is a play well worth seeing during its short tenure at Tricklock. Field Dressing runs on weekends through April 29. Tickets are available at the door and at tricklock.com.