Nina Arsenault’s Silicone Diaries is as much of an enigma as the woman herself. Where one might expect an exploration of gender in this one-woman show that chronicles her journey from man to woman, we are instead presented with an exploration a quest for beauty and come face-to-face with this woman obsessed with plastic surgery.
Photos of Arsenault are imposing enough, but in person she is larger than life. Her exaggerated figure of big boobs, tiny waist and womanly hips are tightly packed inside a skintight latex dress that makes strange noises as she moves or runs her fingers across it to show the places where various doctors have cut. Her massive hair, a wig with its own extensions, is piled high atop her skinny body, framing a face that has seen a good number of those 60 surgeries. She slinks across the stage, sips daintily from her water bottle and strikes poses like the mannequin that inspired her transformation as images from actual cosmetic surgeries plays in the background.
There is a fairytale quality to Arsenault’s show where things don’t always feel quite real, even though we know they are from the vision before us and the stories she tells of how she got to this point. As she sits in front of imaginary mirrors on a number of occasions to evaluate her latest changes, we half expect her to ask of it the same question as the queen in Grimm’s Snow White. As she concludes her story and looks toward, with not a little apprehension, the inevitable aging process we wouldn’t be surprised to hear it answer back that perhaps she isn’t the fairest in the land anymore.
Arsenault’s delivery is at times unpolished, sometimes hesitating as if trying to recall her next line and there is flatness to her delivery that feels like she is on the same Ativan that she took during her now somewhat infamous encounter with rocker Tommy Lee at Toronto’s Ultra Lounge. While at times quite funny, there is always a tinge of underlying blackness and in the final exposing moments, Arsenault reaches deep in her ultimate quest to erase that blackness by matching her interior to her exterior.
In my recent interview with Arsenault she claimed to be one of the happiest people she knows. As she recounted her sometimes graphic journey to the woman we see before us I suppose that happiness, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder.
Created and performed by Nina Arsenault. Directed by Brendan Healy. On stage at The Cultch through February 25, 2012. Visit http://www.thecultch.com for tickets and information.