The Silicone Diaries, a one-woman, 90-minute unbroken monologue, documents Nina Arsenault’s transformation from an awkward young transsexual whose friends told her she would never pass as a “real” woman to the embodiment of surgically enhanced silicone female perfection.
From the beginning you know how the story ends. Arsenault slinks on stage in a transparent dress that displays just what 60 surgeries will do for you. Her body is not only the subject of the story, but a part of it. Every time the audience grits their teeth against Arsenault’s retelling of black market silicone injections and surgeries in Mexico, they only have to look to Arsenault’s perfect form for reassurance that everything turns out okay.
This contrast also has the opposite effect. Even as Arsenault flexes and displays we are reminded of the price of physical perfection and of what could have gone wrong along the way. Make no mistake: The Silicone Diaries is not really a play about gender. Yes, the need to be recognizably female is what set Arsenault on the path of transformation, at some point, however, her quest became about being not only a woman but the definitive woman.
This obsession gives the performance its darker moments.
There are also segments that have the audience in stitches. A story about Arsenault encountering Tommy Lee in a Toronto restaurant is a particular highlight as she manages to inject humour and power into what could otherwise have been a story about her secret getting out at the worst possible moment.
At times The Silicone Diaries feels a little self-indulgent, like we’ve been brought here to witness Arsenault at the peak of her beauty before the ravages of middle age threaten to dismantle all that she has done. In between segments she stretches out on the stage floor like a centrefold in the girlie magazines that mark the beginning of her story.
But it is easy to forgive these moments. With direction by Brendan Healey and sound design by Richard Ferren, Arsenault’s storytelling is so evocative that it is easy to imagine the minimal set, comprising only a table and chair, transforming into a variety of settings at Arsenault’s suggestion. The Silicone Diaries is captivating theatre.