The Movements We Make With Our Wands: A Tarot Review of Meg Whiteford’s "The Shapes We Make With Our Bodies"
“The Shapes We Make With Our Bodies” by Meg Whiteford is a visceral ride through the spiritual realm of what moves us. The physical world influences us to behave in certain ways, but Whiteford exposes what happens when the physical is transcended and instead, we are able to move through our surroundings as pure energy. The Suit of Wands has everything to do with this raw energy and movement, so I decided to review the newest title from Plays Inverse as though I were reading its tarot using the Suit of Wands from the Emily Dickinson Tarot Deck, designed by Bianca Stone.
This play is about recovering and uncovering and similarities to the Suit of Wands don’t end there. The narrator arranges the audience with the Maenads and our main character, Honey, at a pool; and when else than in summer, which the Suit of Wands traditionally represents. Summer is a time to reflect and to plan. However the Suit of Wands deals with the spiritual level of consciousness so that these realizations and summer plans are nothing like you’d expect.
Act I, Scene I: Warm Up
In “The Shapes We Make With Our Bodies” Whiteford literally examines such, as the Yoga Instructor positions women with his words. His words influence them into shapes they may not want to be – “Everyone be wall-like, now be pin-like, now be as a bell opening and closing and pausing.” (18) – and the women comply. Already we see Honey, uncomfortable in this relationship, standing out from the group.
This introduction is indicative of the Seven of Wands, as this card indicates a challenge and perseverance. In the Emily Dickinson Tarot Deck, Stone depicts the Seven of Wands as a woman asking for the sunset in a cup, the title line of an Emily Dickinson poem, indicating that Honey is reading for a change in her environment.
Act I, Scene II: A Therapeutic Relationship
The Two of Wands lends itself toward a new discovery. Honey’s discovery leads to a session with the Therapist. Here we realize Honey is in need of a new life because she does not know how to have a relationship with this one. The Therapist asks her to describe the heartache and she does just that – with hands hitting chest and throat contemplating the wringing sensation felt when it goes to speak or breathe. Whiteford’s depiction of self-hatred results in a topographical map of Honey’s feelings.
“HONEY. The edges of my body are the next closest
things to elsewhere. Waiting to, or trying not to, leap
out. Outside the edges are beginnings, searching for
their middles and ends. Avoiding those other edges—
The Choices. My words are left and fossilized in that
self-made hole: the grave of a decision.” (28/29)
Stone’s Two of Wands also includes a title line from one of Emily Dickinson’s poems “to fight out loud is very brave”, indicating Honey’s decision to talk about her inability to make a decision is a step in the right direction.
Act I, Scene III
Whiteford is a master of interrupting the expected. The Eight of Wands implies Honey is moving forward, but the movement in this particular scene focuses on the Maenads eating mushrooms, creating new environments with their excess thought and energy. Whiteford aesthetically mesmerizes, as the narrator describes for us, “I see interior lightning storms I see torrents I see tempests I see a river of Lethe running aquamarine perhaps it too is filled with crystals or perhaps that’s confectioner’s sugar I see dancing in concentric circles never-ending ripples inward and outward movements avoiding eye and body contact never-ending whirl pooling stirring the pot” (34). Thematically, Whiteford interrupts our expectations when the Maenads transcend their typical need to fill a shape and instead consider absence. Change is occurring, energies are shifting. As the Eight of Wands indicated, a cleansing is occurring to make room for an approaching experience of significance.
Act I, Scene IV
Like the earth, Honey cannot help but hold onto the pain of the past. There is no release, except in eruptions. The Yoga Instructor, now the Lion, is comfortable in the way his form was made. But Honey does not want to be held back any longer. She realizes, as the Three of Wands by Stone states, 'forever is composed of nows'.
“HONEY. I think you’re missing a crucial element. If
we are no longer defined by the direction we’re moving
in, a gulf will pressurize us into silence.” (43)
The Three of Wands encourages bold and necessary action to develop a clearer understanding of the self, and as the card predicted, Honey uses her divining wand to cast her own path, making room for the new discoveries.
Act II, Scene 1
Whiteford writes so the audience feels as though they are inside a crystal where the energy is most focused. In the Emily Dickinson Tarot Deck, the Sister of Wands represents the Queen, the most energetic character in the Wands Suit. This card represents a plan coming together, especially with the help of community. This feminine ruler knows how to take control over her life as well as how to influence others with inspiration instead of force.
The Maenads are still attempting to figure out what happened between Honey and Lion when Honey chooses to make use of the raw energy around them and recommends playing a game instead. She has the Maenads join hands to form a circle, understanding that the others still need this role of power. The game progresses into an incantation, also reminiscent of the Sister of Wands, who as Queen was classically known for her fascination with magic and the occult. It seems as though Honey is willing the Maenads to create something, or somewhere, new with her.
Act II, Scene II
The Therapist shifts into Vampira, as all bodies do in this play. And as the Four of Wands describes, Honey’s relationship with Vampira is one in which she can be herself. More so, Vampira is able to encourage her despite the daunting nature of the challenges ahead. The comfort in this connection causes the harmony of their relationship to tune up, which Honey and Vampira reflect as they sing, replacing words in the lyrics as they please. “The Shapes We Make With Out Bodies” is filled with these little meditations on inter-connection and independence.
Act II, Scene III
Honey goes to the Mystic Maenad for a better understanding of an opportunity as indicated by the Ace of Wands. There she has her cards read. However, within the Mystic Maenad’s reading, Honey is faced with more personal issues than symbols of success. Ultimately, the reading ends on a similar note to the Ace of Wands.
“MYSTIC MAENAD. 8 of swords reversed. Liberation.
It’s time to rebuild that fallen tower. How can you
break free?” (63)
But Honey knows that freedom is only a race to leave the past behind. "And / you're observing yourself, or at least you're observing / whatever stayed behind of yourself, from above." (63) Whiteford helps her audience understand more and more of Honey's goal through these clandestine comments and characters, including those in the following scene.
Interlude: A Hocus Interrogation
These new characters engage with the symbolism of the Five of Wands as the shadow of stones on stage communicate. Despite their differences, they reach a singular understanding. This group, split into parts due to their differences, work together as one to show other characters in this play how to do the same.
Act III, Scene I: Honey’s Lament, or, The Bridge Across The Mohawk River (or, A Trial, or, A Flash-Forward)
The House (Page) of Wands stands alone. She must stand up for her dreams and desires because others around her will continue to challenge them. The Maenads have the final judgment.
Act III, Scene II: Banishment
The final card I pulled was the Garden of Wands (classically, the Knight). The Knight is known to make rash decisions, but the Garden of Wands begs patience and diligence. The Garden takes tending to, so that impulsiveness is hushed by patience necessary to create new life.
“The Shapes We Make With Our Bodies” by Meg Whiteford exposes all of the ways we are able to shape our selves, despite common encounters with competition and judgment against others and the self. As the Garden of Wands implies, Honey’s actions throughout the play help her move from where she was to where she should be - filling and shifting any shape she desires, until the play begins again.
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catch business is a person and poet.