Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Grain of Salt... (2nd in a series)

...or, Remember it's only my opinion - and I'm owning up to, rather than dodging, my prejudices here. So take this into account and then consider the source and go make up your own mind about shows that might fall into this genre...

Theater of the Evil P
Theater of the Happy V

Since I don't want this to turn into an essay on genitalia, assume for the sake of argument that P represents a certain male sex organ, and V the female. All will hopefully become clear as I proceed.

Ladies, I sympathize. Sometimes men are jerks. I should know. I am one. I'm also gay and have to date them.

But can we please agree on the use of "sometimes"?

I'm all for theater of the oppressed. People need to express themselves, particularly when they feel (correctly) that they've been wronged. Some incredibly powerful art throughout the ages has come from the disenfranchised among us.

There comes a time, however, when "angry" all by itself is no longer getting the job done.

If we can't celebrate our own uniqueness without feeling compelled at the same time to denigrate someone else, then we're not getting any closer to common ground. We're putting up walls rather than making progress.

(and queer theater has the same dang problem half the time, so don't think I'm letting myself or my queer brothers and sisters off the hook for a second - Gay "Good", Straight "Evil"? Please. Turn on your brain and look around. Sustitute "Straight" for P and "Gay" for V, make the necessary adjustments, and you get two essays for the price of one here)

For instance, there's Theater of the Evil P. In this genre of theater, women decry the evils of men. All men. If it's got a P, there can't be anything good about the person.

I'm not pretending that men don't *sometimes* (perhaps even often) do bad things. Of course they do.

(Heck, I'm a card carrying member of the "White Liberal Guilt" Brigade - it's a Pavlovian response, I've been conditioned. Ring a bell, wag a finger, shake your head, look at me cross-eyed, I'll feel bad about the fact that I don't live in a refrigerator box on the street. However...)

Theater of the Evil P is not thinking person's theater. By definition, it does not feel the need to make its case. In the world according to Theater of the Evil P - "Woman good. Man bad." You agree, or you get out. There is no discussion. There is no debate. It's a screaming match. It doesn't want you to respond to it. It just wants you to sit there and let it berate you. You're a bad person, you should sit there and take it. No thanks.

And hey, that may be it's purpose, just to get the ranting out of your system. Fine. But I don't think I'm your audience then. And maybe I'm not. I've learned to stay away from places I'm not wanted.

(Please read to the end before flaming me)

Theater of the Happy V - theater that celebrates woman and feminity without also feeling the need to use the male of the species as a whipping boy. The best (and perhaps most extreme) example of this would be somethting like the Psychic Slutz production of The Once And Future Whore a few years back. Prior to its Fringe run, it was birthed (quite literally) at Bedlam Theater. After paying for your ticket, you proceded down a long tunnel, parted a slit in some red fabric, and you were in the womb. After stepping into the theater space, you realized that you had just entered through a vagina. Well, were it not for the fact that a daughter of a friend of mine was in the show and I was attending with him that night, I might have just turned around and headed straight for the nearest therapist. But I stayed. And I'm glad I did. Yes, I probably saw more breasts and... uh, other things, live and in person, of all body types, than I will likely ever see again in the totality of my life as a gay man. But the overall atmosphere of welcome and celebration was quite intoxicating. Wouldn't it be great if we lived in a world where (well, with more clothes perhaps, but...) a world in which we all interacted with respect for one another and embraced the feminine side of ourselves and weren't afraid of it? A very unusual, but nonetheless very potent evening of theater. And years later, I remember it still. Because it embraced not only my heart and my mind, but also me, as a person, regardless of whether I had a third leg or not.

This is not an indictment of feminist theater or women's theater.

A number of very good friends of mine founded and continue to run Theater Unbound, a collective for women theater artists that is mounting a production of "The Love Talker" for this year's Fringe. And I'll stand in line and see this and every other production they do, and heartily endorse them to all who will listen (as I'm doing now). I feel what they're doing is very important and necessary work. They are helping to fill a void in the theater community, providing another artistic home for female artists. And creating great theater while they're at it.

I enjoy Fifteen Head - though sometimes it skates pretty close to the edge of Theater of the Evil P, it always pulls itself back at the last moment. Strong female characters do not preclude interesting characters for men as well.

Point me toward some Theater of the Happy V, and I'm there.

But I'll skip Theater of the Evil P, if it's all the same to you. Chances are, I wouldn't be welcome anyway.

If theater's about dialogue, shouldn't the other person at least be allowed in the room?

(Hey, it's only my opinion)

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