Left of Centre Theatre Company
107 Redfern Street, Redfern
Season: 18-20 June 8pm
Gender inequality is ubiquitous in our world – and notably shrouds the arts. Theatre and film industries spew out ‘sexy and generic’ female characters, leaving the more sophisticated lead roles for male actors to take on. Left of Centre’s The Genius Project, created and performed by Carissa Licciardello and Jessica Pantano, deconstructs the gender bias preached by industries and unconsciously permeates our mindsets. And they are hilarious doing it.
Jessica (an emerging writer) is outraged by the overt inequality displayed in the Oscars nominations, the hype largely surrounding male ‘genius’ characters. She undertakes the task of refashioning the fail-safe male-genius formula with a female protagonist. Enlisting Carissa’s support (an emerging actor), they power into this hefty undertaking together, passionately reinforcing each other in the face of institutionalised and internalised sexism.
A brilliant piece of social activism, The Genius Project is very, very funny. (Hey, women can be funny and smart after all!) Licciardello and Pantano are exuberant in the performance, and their self-professed belief in the capacity for the arts to affect and change the way people live is highly evident in the piece. They worked to create an amusing caricature – and yet on reflection, this so-called satirical view is unnervingly similar to reality. They have held a magnifying glass up to the ridiculous reality many of us have come to accept, making the everyday contradictions blaringly obvious.
Licciardello and Pantano bounced off each other on stage, on the same wavelength throughout the performance and supporting each other in their artistic decisions all the way. It was delightful to witness this chemistry and served to produce an engaging performance. Pantano exhibited finesse on the stage, with a strong presence and great confidence. Licciardello read the audience adeptly to gauge the comedy in the situation and committed to bold theatrical decisions deserving commendation. The synergy of the performers with each other, their audience, as well as the contemporary social climate, culminated in an effective social activist piece of theatre that is not only palatable, but left the audience craving more.
Use of theatrical elements of set, sound and lighting design provided a suitable space for the performers to explore the themes, whilst maintaining a quick pace. The set design consisted of a chalkboard framing the back of the stage space, a desk with piles of books and notes (such that a genius may care to use) and an armchair. The performers were in no way heavily reliable on the set to work their magic, however it facilitated the actors’ movements in order to set the scene clearly. Sound and lighting design was used primarily in transitioning between scenes, which occurred swiftly to sustain the rapid pace set. Faded lights with a shift into red lighting clearly represented the passing of time, and occasionally the shifting of setting. At two moments in the piece, the actors were interviewed by industry professionals, whereby spotlighting was employed to emphasise the intimidating, warped and isolating nature of industry perspectives. Finally, the piece concluded with a song that humorously summarised the themes of the work.
I returned from The Genius Project with renewed hope and unshakeable faith in the future of our society’s artists. Witty, compelling and bold, Licciardello and Pantano took on the mammoth issue of gender inequality in film and theatre industries. They did so with a heightened awareness of the power art and performance can have on the way people think and behave. This type of theatre must be supported in order for it to thrive. And when it’s this enjoyable to watch, I can’t think of a reason why you wouldn’t.