A moment broke the growing impasse

By two in the afternoon, when I’ve been a spectator for more than ten hours, all those men are walking together. The man who called her “boring in a nice way” and made her throw the noodles directly at his neck. That person whose very long, curly hair she grabbed and rubbed sensually and comically in her face while dancing. The man who pretended to be an AI robot.

Georgina Verbaan has now completed 22 hours. She has so far received around ninety men and ten minutes later she has shown them the door. Between scenes, there is an expectant murmur in the darkened corridor from the audience, who are speculating about the next man who will enter the small, rose-red, 1960s-style living room in a large glass box on the stage.

Meanwhile, blonde Virginia in her red dress patiently on her knees picks up noodle strips from the floor. Then she sits down on the chair with a serene look and waits.

He comes in apologetically, they have a drink, eat noodles.

The second woman, a work conceived by Anna Breckon and Nat Randall, lies somewhere between play and performance art. It centers on a woman, Virginia, who breaks up with her lover, Martin, in a scripted scene that lasts about ten minutes. She comes with excuses; They drink something, they eat noodles. “If you don’t find me interesting anymore, you can say so,” Virginia says. Fixed facts follow: the man protests, they pour Virginia noodles on him; Then they dance to a soul song. The taste of love from Aura, with a clearly drunk Virginia embracing the man intimately. It ends abruptly. Virginia pulls a fifty euro note out of a box, hands it to the man and says, “I think you should go.”

Yet another man shows up at Georgina Verbaan’s (Virginia) Red Rose Room.Image Ada Nieuwenhuis

Then the scene starts again, but with a different man. He welcomes a hundred men (and a single woman or non-binary person), in a performance that lasts 24 hours.

The play was first performed in Australia in 2016. After performances in London and New York, Georgina Verbaan dared to perform the Dutch version of the marathon performance. You only have a fifteen minute break every two hours for 24 hours. And although it is written, every time it is different.

Itchy eyes, forehead pain after eight hours of staring

One more, I thought at a quarter to two that night, my eyes stinging and my forehead throbbing after about eight hours of staring. The soft pink room began to feel like a dream, but the element of surprise is addictive. Who walks in? And though the men are mostly amateurs, and though this is another break-up scene, the tension keeps building just before the end: will it end with love or hate? “I never loved you,” says an old rocker in a scarf and leather vest, who looked just as adorable. Asshole, I think.

The production of ‘The Second Woman’ at the International Theatre in Amsterdam.Image Janiek Dam

Frustrated men, well-meaning men, innocent men, carefree men, they come and go, and Virginia keeps getting paid. The question that comes back again and again as man after man opens and closes the door, noodles are thrown in faces, whiskey is poured and bodies are thrashed around: What do these men want? Are they here for attention or for something more?

At times the conversation seems frankly confessional, the motivation cathartic. “If you had taken the pills in time, you would never have gotten to this point!” a surly man exclaims defensively. Meta-references are made at various points. “What are you thinking?” Virginia asks, and the queer person in front of her talks about struggling “in this box of exploitation and objectification.” ‘I’m glad you got it off your chest.’Virginia says dryly.

The more Verbaan gets tired, the more he laughs

The largely inept men opposite Verbaan invite comedy rather than real drama, and the more tired she feels, the more the comically gifted actor protects himself and, logically, bursts into laughter. In the morning hours, after about 75 scenes, the irritation at all those men imposing themselves also seems to make the actor a bit rebellious, if not villainous. She ostentatiously glances at the somewhat ridiculous high Tyrolean socks worn by the tall man opposite her, and the audience rewards her with a wave of laughter. “What a nice blouse,” she says, clearly sarcastically, to a man wearing a very busy shirt.

But for a moment something breaks this growing impasse. When a man with advanced muscle disease walks into a room with difficulty, the energy changes. Verbaan helps him drink the whiskey with a straw. While he slowly and laboriously delivers his lines, with his mouth wide open, all those other men with their desires, reproaches and insecurities seem far away. They dance together, he unsure at first, then cling awkwardly to her as she caresses him. ‘I love to taste your love.’ When she’s gone, I see Verbaan grab a handkerchief for the first time.

After 24 hours on stage, Georgina Verbaan says goodbye to the audience.Image Janiek Dam

Perhaps a wink, that title, to something that ultimately serves more as a portrait of the man. Made by the viewer, who is carried along from scene to scene, as frustrated, loved, furious and resigned as Virginia herself. And yet, endlessly curious about the next man who opens the door.

Read also:

Georgina Verbaan replays the same scene over and over again for 24 hours: ‘It’s actually a nightmare’

Actress Georgina Verbaan wanted to step completely out of her comfort zone for once. Well, she will triumph in the unique theatrical performance of the Netherlands Film Festival, ‘The Second Wife’. ‘Yes, it will be a war of attrition. Ha!’

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