Brava, or should I say Bravo to Peggy Shaw, the butch lesbian Sean Penn look-alike for her solo show “Ruff”. She with Lois Weaver, director and co-author, have been presenting theater work with their company Split Britches since the 1980’s. Their work has always been original, funny and challenging. They have dealt with issues like: what is a lesbian, what is a woman, outsiders, and gender issues.
This 75 minute monologue deals with Peggy’s recent stroke. She doesn’t just tell us she shows us. She becomes the patient and the stroke. The stroke dances, moving around the stage on an office chair. We hear the stroke beating regularly and irregularly. The stroke even sings to us. To the tune of “Hokey Pokey”, “you put your right arm in….” Initially Peggy is brought to her knees by the stroke. We hear her “bargaining”. “If you get me through this I’ll stop wearing men’s suits.”
She takes us through her post stroke brain. It’s very real. Her trouble learning her lines is openly revealed by the three teleprompters that she moves around with her. But, she still can forget. But, she still stays with us, and we stay with her. After a failed joke she let’s you know, “I thought that was funny”. Her memories are incomplete, fragments of events. She thinks one of the causes of her stroke was a DVD, which we see on the screen behind her, of her going to her sister’s wedding. She doesn’t explain how this could be a stroke trigger. We try to put the pieces together, but like her we are left puzzled. Does the DVD connote the end of her life as a girly wearing a dress? Is it the shock of her body’s announcing she is in fact female?
But one thing is sure she is a survivor. Throughout her piece we get glimmers of some of what she survived pre-stroke: poverty, her sister’s becoming blind, her sister dying, her mother’s mental illness. She wonders whether she has forgotten some of her tortuous guilt, which leaves room for new and better stuff. Her facility to turn lemons into lemonade keeps being delivered through the various productions of her company with Lois Weaver, Split Britches. In 1986 they won an Obie for sustained excellence, and in 1987 Peggy won a best actor Obie.
Thank you for setting an example of fighting for life despite odds stacked against you. Keep on keepin’ on!!
Written by Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver, Peformed by Peggy Shaw, Directed by Lois Weaver
Music and Sound by Vivian Stoll
Remaining Showtimes: thru January 26, Thursday -Saturday at 7:30, Sunday at 2:30
Location: La MaMa First Floor Theatre, 74A East Fourth Street, Tickets: $20/ students and seniors $15.
For tickets and info: lamama.org of 212 475 7710.