A Review of FATHER FUCKER [an essay on girlhood]
Writing: Nelli Elisa Ruotsalainen
Promotional photo: Viivi Huuska
You may have liberated yourself from the cozy confines of the uterus through your mother’s vagina, but the way to exit patriarchy is to crawl out of daddy’s rectum.
This is the climax of multitalented theatre prodigy Sara Melleri’s new performance Father Fucker. Father Fucker is written, directed, and co-starred by Sara Melleri and realized in collaboration with the HYPE collective for the 2016 Baltic Circle Theatre Festival in Helsinki. Father Fucker is based on magazine articles that feature the adventures of super model sisters Liv and Claudia Versace that Melleri and her childhood friend wrote when they were twelve.
Two weeks before the premiere of Father Fucker, I met Melleri at a café in Kallio to discuss two deeply connected topics: Father Fucker and feminism. I began by asking Melleri if she was afraid that having the label of a feminist artist could impede her career? (As I type this out I recognize how sad it is that this is even a question.)
SM: It changes, but yes let’s say that it does impede my career. [BOTH LAUGH]
But does it bother me that roles that are not for me pass by me, roles that don’t align with my world view or view of a woman? I’m ok with it.
NR: Does this mean you have turned down roles because they are anti-feminist?
SM: Yes ever since I was a student I have turned down roles like that. Then I had slew of ‘interesting’ role offers when I was pregnant with my daughter and right after I gave birth. These were all roles of the “whore to be beaten up”, but maybe these reflect the Finnish state [of making movies]… but I like to think that we are moving past this, at least in theatre, and largely because of feminists like Anna Paavilainen and her performance Play Rape. But being offered those roles is something that I had to grapple with, I was almost on my way to do one of these roles. The film would have been filmed in Lithuania and the gist of the role was just a woman who is raped by many different men. No one needs to do roles like that, I’m putting this bluntly but like I am sorry that’s not even acting any more or doing something under the guise of the role. If you have a man as a director and an entire film crew of men. Like I have seen it in my own life on a much smaller scale, the bad mental place it puts you in.
Father Fucker then, is decidedly different because it is a space deliberately created by Melleri for herself and for her crew. Father Fucker is set in the dying body of Liv and Claudia Versace’s father, Gianni Versace, and accordingly, the stage is draped with meters of intestines, a spiky liver juts out from the floor, and massive lungs billow as though drawing breath. Liv, played by Sara Melleri, and Claudia, played by Markku Haussila, thus are given a seemingly cushiony and all around pink space, although the creeping decay of the dying father is pungent. The stage, as space, of course can’t convey scent, but if it could, the Father Fucker setting would ooze an odor of vigorously squirted Tommy Girl, watermelon flavored Lipsmackers, and warm tampons.
Photo by: Tani Simberg
As a platform-sneaker stomping, Wannabe-lip-syncing child of the nineties myself, I ask Melleri why and how her childhood fantasy journals written back then, surfaced at this specific time. Melleri tells me that the texts became an inspiration for the performance in a workshop where the HYPE Collective members shared their most embarrassing memories:
SM: One of my most embarrassing memories is when my friend Fanny and I were playing this Liv and Claudia Versace game. We were strutting down the streets of Oulu speaking only English, convinced that our twelve-year-old selves were seen as those super models. Then one time our cover was blown when we were at the Zeppelin spa with our mothers, and there were these two other girls who had been eyeing us with scrutiny for some time already. A series of terrible things then unfolded, like for example, I accidentally used the [Finnish] word ‘hoitoaine’ instead of conditioner and the girls noticed the slip. Then in the dressing room we tried to involve our mothers in the game also by speaking English to them and asking: Could we go to the mall after this? And they responded in Finnish asking “What maaaal what does that mean??”
What I recognize in both Melleri’s account of her most embarrassing moment, and throughout the entire performance of Father Fucker, is the pit-stained pretense of the preteens: the vulnerability that underlines the pressure to act cool amidst budding boobs, pubes, and pimples. I remember walking to the H&M in Tapiola with my mother and little brother the summer after seventh grade, mortified I might be spotted (by who?) in such childish company. The same sense of mortification smothered me when my best friend tried to light the wrong end of a cigarette in front of the older boys.
What flutters behind the act of sticky lip gloss and the thong underwear that peaks from the hip of the jeans, and what the premise of Father Fucker pinpoints with such accuracy, is the preteen dawning that our bodies are no longer ours. This feeling doesn’t arise solely because we have yet to reconcile the physical changes after the onslaught of hormones. We sense, even though we have yet to be given an explanation why, that our bodies are now up for grabs for men who are not unlike our own fathers.
As the show progresses, Liv and Claudia are left alone to eat Candy King Candies and watch The Bold and the Beautiful, Beverly Hills, and Dawson’s Creek on TV. Father is out on the town, eating women. Suddenly the stage trembles and screeches, we are engulfed in darkness. Dying father is dead, but Liv and Claudia have been left behind. The sisters plunge into a state of competing sadness, each one-upping the others expression of grief. “I am so sad I could die!” “I am so sad I am dead on the inside!” They parade their emotions in the self-conscious way of people who know they are on display; Liv and Claudia sense that at any moment, the other might accidentally reach out and ask for the bottle of conditioner in Finnish.
Liv and Claudia take us with them to heal from their loss. We follow them in their teeny weeny bikinis to their beach house in Malibu, where they encounter Brian Littrell and A.J. McLean from the Backstreet Boys. In this scene, Melleri plays both A.J. and Liv, and executes with bravado the tacky pick-up act that A.J. puts on. The tacky pick-up act consists of a repertoire of bland adjectives that most women have endured since their teens (“First they were confusing albeit flattering, now I think I have finally perfected an aura that deflects them”). Liv scrutinizes the “baby this and baby that” and the quick promises of eternal love. She remains coy yet intrigued, and we hear her confess to A.J.: “But we are still virgins”.
Photo by: Tani Simberg
The scene reminds me of a warm spring day and a push up bra after we have just graduated elementary school. A girl called Taija and I play cards on the schoolyard grass with the boys. Moments before, Taija has shown me how to perk up my pushed-up A-cups by propping my forearms and elbows under them. The scene reminds me also of a time two years later. I am weeks from turning fifteen, interrogating an older boy: “what, you think I am a virgin?” and then scoffing at his answer, eager to brag I had shed that shit. Why were we so eager to shed that shit?
Liv and Claudia leave behind something we’re supposedly leaving behind after the ‘first time’ and are invited to discuss their now vigorous sex lives with their celebrity boyfriends on a talk show. The nonplussed host inquires after their sexual habits and preferences. Again the sisters out-brag each other, taking turn writhing on the floor.
NR: Is Father Fucker is a feminist space?
SM: Father Fucker is written by me and based on my childhood texts and the improvisations of the group. Markku and I play the leads, and even as we use fantasy to distance the story from ourselves, it is deeply autobiographical. Father Fucker does provide a space where Markku for example can be a girl, no explanations given, and we bend and challenge rigid gender norms. And even as the space is a fantasy, it is oppressive. I am not telling anyone to read the performance like this, but I perceive the body of the Father as the patriarchy in which we live in, and I like to consider this [play] as my own gesture of destroying the patriarchy.
NR: Wonderful, damn straight!
SM: Yup, that’s all there is to that. [BOTH LAUGH].
The performance draws to its end as Claudia is liberated to wriggle herself out of the body of the father. Liv panics to join her, and together, pulling each other along, they emerge through the rectum. Madonna’s Oh Father envelops Liv and Claudia in graceful choreography. Liv swings topless towards the audience and, it is clear that the lyrics of the song are a deliberate choice: You can’t hurt me now / I got away from you / I never thought I would / You can’t make me cry /you once had the power /I never felt so good about myself.
Only the exit from the rectum brings Liv and Claudia into public space, to the same premise where most coming of age stories begin. Because most coming of age stories, taken for granted and force-fed to us whose education systems bow to the Western, patriarchal canon, feature boys as protagonists. Melleri’s decision to set the stage of Liv and Claudia’s coming of age story in the confines of their father’s body reveals and interrogates gendered relations societally. Whereas the likes of Tom Sawyer and Holden Cawlfield become of age propelled to their adventures, to the public sphere, Melleri confines Liv and Claudia to the rotting belly of daddy. This, I think, is intentional. It highlights that for girlhood, coming of age is secretive, pushed into the realm of the private by an overarching patriarchy: girlhood coming of age is restricted. Girlhood coming of age is no one’s mandatory reading.
I saw Father Fucker a week ago and have since repeatedly burst into sung declarations of “You can’t hurt me nooooow!” To account for these outbursts, I have attempted to explain the setting crafted by Melleri for Father Fucker. For folks who couldn’t make it the Baltic Circle Theatre festival, the premise of two supermodels in the dying body of daddy might sound strange. For those of us who found our lived experiences explored but held with grace, the premise, plot, and characters are as familiar as our own cringe-worthy, but ultimately adorable diaries. Sara Melleri and Markku Haussila left everything they have on stage. It is through their vehement performances that the audience could join in and lip-sync to Madonna with glee.
At the end of Father Fucker the patriarchy is not only dead: it has been destroyed.