I liked it best when I was the most confused.
The three-episode video series K Body and Mind, which was written and directed by Conor Wylie, has a fantastic set-up and an extraordinarily stylish mode of delivery.
The story takes place sometime in the twenty-first century. A start-up called The Grove is making cloned bodies available for habitation. Kawabi has recently submitted to having her “seed”, her essence, transplanted into one of the clones. But something has gone wrong. There’s a glitch in the matrix, or there’s a virus, or a hacker, or something: an entity called The Crying Woman has invaded the system and it’s driving the inhabitants of cloned bodies to commit suicide.
To save herself and others, Kawabi must work with the administrators of The Grove to figure out what’s going on — and fix it.
The interface between the mechanistic nature of The Grove and Kawabi’s subjective experience is unsettling: as an administrator examines a shard of Kawabi’s memory, pulling it out of her like data, Kawabi becomes overwhelmed with feeling, frantically digging at the ground, and the controller has to dial her down. Even minor details — it takes a while to adjust the program so that Kawabi can talk — speak viscerally to the alienation of submitting human consciousness to mechanized systems. (It’s arguable, of course, that our neurology is mechanical.)
Just two actors, Jasmine Chen and Donna Soares, act all of this out. They differentiate several characters solely through the use of their voices — and those voices sometimes jump between one actor and the other. Chen and Soares’s faces remain largely neutral as the characters speak through them. This dissociation of voice and body is spooky — and performed with extremely impressive restraint and skill.
Soares’s core character is Kawabi and Chen’s is an administrator named esmer. Because both of these characters are essentially radios, watching K Body and Mind is a lot like listening to a radio play: it stimulates active imaginative engagement. And there’s pop-culture fun to be had though all three episodes — references to computer games and, more unexpectedly, film noir.
For me, the first episode, “What’s Your Name?”, which runs about half an hour, was the most compelling: I had a good time trying to figure out what was going on while getting bounced around by the style of the piece.
Episode 2, “Play It Again”, which runs about 15 minutes, and Episode 3, “That Day”, which adds another 30, are also skilfully produced and performed. But the explanation of the story’s mechanics feel, perhaps inevitably, reductive. And the mystery of the set-up isn’t replaced by sufficient emotional resonance. There’s a big relationship reveal in Episode 3, but that relationship almost feels like an afterthought and its terms are so generic that the revelation carries little weight.
For me, K Body and Mind starts more strongly than it ends. But it’s a stylish and original piece of work.
K BODY AND MIND Created by A Wake of Vultures (Nancy Tam, Daniel O’Shea, and Conor Wylie). Written and directed by Conor Wylie. Viewed online March 6. Streaming on demand until March 14. Tickets are free or by donation.
NEVER MISS A REVIEW: To get links to my reviews plus the best of international theatre coverage, sign up for FRESH SHEET, my free weekly e-newsletter.
And, if you want to keep independent criticism alive in Vancouver, check out my Patreon page. Newspapers are dying and arts journalism is often the first thing they cut. Fight back!