This is a well-seasoned two-character performance piece about too many things.
The piece centers around Suzi, played by Susan McCully, her physical issues, her embarrassment of riches in the fantasy department and what feels to me like an over-arching dislike of her physical self. She is accompanied by Rachel Hirshorn, who expertly plays a different character in every scene she is in. Both Susan McCully and Rachel Hirshorn are strong performers, committed and interesting to watch. The props and set pieces by Lien French are perfect.
Most of the scenes in the piece come off as separate free-standing sections. I didn’t mind that the sections did not fit neatly together, but at times they seemed at cross purposes. This was true within the subject they were covering as well as what it was they were adding up to. I’ve seen work that cumulates in a non-linear way. As a friend once said about a performance piece, “I don’t know what they’re doing, but somehow it makes sense.” This, for me, was not that; it went in several directions, some of them really smart, but most of them hit a wall.
When we first meet Suzi, she describes the facts and feelings about going blind. The monologue is thick with words, specific and moving; her connection with us is direct and powerful. The monologue is so good it’s like an homage to “Wit” (a solo about a woman who discusses the meaning and science of her own cancer.) Suzi links her battle with blindness to invisibility. In her skilled hands it’s an interesting idea, but after its first introduction it’s hardly mentioned and not developed.
The section about blindness moves easily into a monologue that explores being/feeling sexy. “You can see my queer body,” she says, “but can you imagine me as sexy?” At that moment, I couldn’t. She’s playing a kind of cliché sexy that doesn’t feel genuine or funny. She’s daring us to feel something she herself does not feel. I don’t think that “pin-up” sexy was even real for Marilyn Monroe!
In some of the sections Susan McCully’s writing and performance are wonderful. I think the descriptions of Martha Stewart alone are worth the price of admission. Having seen Martha once at a party in the Hamptons (I was working in the kitchen when she came back to compliment the chef), used her cookbooks and watched her talk, I understand how it is she has inspired many kinds of adoration. Ms. McCully’s description of Martha’s hands and what she calls the “centerfold” of “Living” (Ms Stewart’s magazine) is rich, detailed and very funny.
The scene takes place as she’s waiting for a job interview with Martha along with her uptight opposite, another wonderfully “committed” character played by Rachel Hirshorn – they both want the job and they are both obsessed. But it’s hard to stay on Suzi’s side because she slams the other woman with her sex fantasies about Martha – so it goes from brilliant to overdone. It would have been funnier if we heard more and her fellow job seeker heard less. I started to feel sorry for the other woman waiting for the job interview – wishing Suzi had better boundaries.
In another scene, Suzi plays biker “dude”, trying to pick up a woman with her motorcycle as a sexual stand in. She’s being super butch, but it’s coming off like Suzi is just a run-of-the-mill creepy man that a woman of any persuasion would run from.
One part takes place in what should be a truly scary meetup. It’s run by Rachel Hirshorn, playing Suzi’s mother, who is trying to raise money for parents to get genetic control of their future offspring. She offers up cool pics of Suzi’s younger self as if they were something to be mortified by. Susan McCully stands by these great pictures on a huge pad, helping to turn the pad to the next page. She can’t be Suzi, because her mother refers to her as not being there – so who is she? It’s not scary or funny. Perhaps that’s because this fantasy is the most painful; a wish to change oneself before one is born.
The last section is the most puzzling. Her love of a vibrator keeps her from being with her gorgeous girlfriend. Enshrined in a huge urn, the dead vibrator, created by Lian French, is so great it should win its own Oscar. This section is hard to understand. She would rather be with a non-working vibrator than a beautiful woman who wants her queer body just the way it is? After giving us the line about wanting to be found sexy? Does she dislike herself so much that she can’t deal with the real thing? How did we get here?
Then she somehow manages to let go of the deceased vibrator and with some resistance allows her ex to visit. The former couple moves in for a kiss and suddenly there seems to be a switch. Suzi’s reluctance is changed to interest and her lover seems uncomfortable. Is this part of the show? Or did they knock into each other?
Her unhappiness with her form needs to come out of the closet; otherwise, I’m left contemplating what the twenty-something friend I was with said, “maybe it’s just a case of gender disorder.”
Where did the woman we met in the beginning with the eye problem go? She was so smart, strong and, dare I say it, attractive. The cause of Suzi’s dislike of her physical body does sit within the context of being gay, middle aged and female, but it’s not the whole story. Dislike of one’s body is a great subject, but it needs to be specific to grab me.
The only inexcusable fantasy is the one that says we are not enough.
Inexcusable Fantasies by Susan McCully Director: Eve Muson
Performed by Susan McCully and Rachel Hirshorn
VENUE #8: The Theater at the 14th Street Y
MON 19 @ 9:15 WED 21 @ 7:15 THU 22 @ 7:30 SAT 24 @ 4:45