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Friday, May 25, 2012

The Sweet Spot: What a Pretty Pussy You Are

Posted By on Fri, May 25, 2012 at 7:30 AM

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"It is not clear in the Bible what Jesus thinks about lesbians, but it is pretty clear that he is okay with prostitutes." That is a rip-roaring line indeed, but writer and performer Maura Halloran already had me at Pussy, the title of her one-woman show that is part of DIVAfest, a theatrical festival that celebrates the work of established and emerging women writers, directors, and performers. 

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The show, which tells of the love "triangle" between three women and a cat, is not subtle in employing metaphorical and actual explorations of "pussy" in all its forms. As one audience member said of the show, "It was meow."

The amorous conflicts of a soft spoken, Christian woman who likes girls is a sweet story but the show also defies what many have come to expect from a one-woman show: therapy masquerading as art. The writer's sexuality is not the issue here, the details are not factual, and there are no torrid tales of childhood abuse.

Says Halloran, "In the post-Mike Daisey era, it seems imperative be totally transparent about solo work, so I feel I should state outright: I am not a cat. I also don't ID as lesbian. The story is inspired by true events and fleshed out by my own experiences of romantic love, but it's not autobiographical or documentary. It's just a story."

This is a relief, as all too often one person's choice to express unchecked the ins and outs of the pysche has been allowed by the plethora of stages for hire. Which makes Halloran's subject matter all the more curious. I asked her why she wanted to explore the challenges with love through a queer lens?

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"I have no idea how to find romance," she said. "But the added challenge I saw for my gay friends was both oppression and math. They have a smaller pool to choose from, a pool made even smaller by the many people who are still afraid to test those waters. The story posits the tender hope that as we embrace more fluid notions of sexual identity, maybe the pool will get bigger for all of us."

True indeed. And speaking of limited pools, for quite a long time it was notoriously difficult for female playwrights to be able to show their work. In fact, it has been only about 50 years since women started to strut and fret as anything other than an actress.

The first play written by an African American woman appeared on Broadway in 1959. A Raisin in the Sun, according to the New York Times, "changed American theater forever." That broke ground for the likes of Ntozake Shanges' For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf in 1977. The experimental work won the Tony Award for best play.

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In 1985, Lily Tomlin, starred in the hilarious and aggressively feminist Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, written by her partner Jane Wagner.

Vaginas as central theme appeared onstage in the 1990's. Say what you will about The Vagina Monologues, they certainly roused the balcony. The play written and performed by Eve Ensler sparked animated discussion of female sexuality and global sexism, and it launched a worldwide political movement.

Pussy is not overtly political. Rather, it is a playful story that is only incidentally radical. Halloran treats the subject of lesbianism with tender paws by focusing more intently on the traits of the characters, and not so heavily on their gayness.

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"I try to avoid gendered thinking because those categories tend to limit empathy," she says, acknowledging "there are limits. The night Pussy previewed I had to go on stage with my period wearing skin-tight white pants. I defy a male performer to match that particular anxiety. ... But then I've never had to worry about a stress boner on stage, so we all have our challenges."

The show will not dramatically challenge the system, but it does prove that those women (and countless others) who blazed on Broadway and trod the boards of avant-garde theaters achieved something important -- the ability for female writers to be able to dispense slightly with the big issues of racism, oppression, and patriarchy to enjoy creating something that delights.

Opportunities for empathy -- and good cat tricks -- can be all we need to enjoy a night out at the theater.

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The Sweet Spot is a blog column about alternative sexuality by Ginger Murray who is also the editor of Whore! magazine. Check back next week for more.

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

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Ginger Murray

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