By Tulis McCall
At the very top of this piece, Lois Weaver recalls an interview with Ta Nehisi Coates. In responding to a question from the audience he says “Just because you spend time thinking about a thing – doesn’t mean you are knowledgeable in all things.”
And that, my friends, pretty much sums up Last Gasp WFH (Working From Home). Weaver and Peggy Shaw have been collaborators for over 40 years. The piece – although it was scheduled to be presented at LaMama last April – feels very connected to this moment that we are all experiencing (and is stretching on forever). An integral element is what I call the supporting cast: the house in which they filmed themselves. The two were in London preparing for a London performance as well as the run at LaMama. Once lockdown hit, they decided to continue to work on the piece. Out of the blue, a house that was awaiting restoration was lent to these women, and what emerged is something very childlike – in a good way. As if you had turned to children loose in an empty house – go amuse yourselves you would say, the way my mother did to us.
And they do.
Weaver and Shaw use words as their amusement tools. The two women used mobile phones to shoot each scene – they set them up and pressed record – with their collaborators viewing on their Zoom connection. They proceeded frame by frame, and created a movie where there had been no movie. They pasted words on the walls out of sight. Which seems appropriate in retrospect – to have the whole room literally filled with words. And then of course there was the editing process, including adding layers and layers of sound and music, with files being sent back and forth across the pond.
In this pandemic, life has become very Brecht-like. We examine our moments because we are suspended within them. Ordering groceries is an iffy proposition. Is it worth it to get on the subway? Who are those people without masks? Weaver asks “What if we didn’t know?” which stings because if there is one thing of which we are all aware, it is that we DON’T. Shaw tells us this is her last show and explains that the writing was on the wall concerning this subject. When she leaned against that wall the words came away onto her jacket. Shaw is entertained with the fragments of her past. Weaver is overflowing with observation.
Slowly they move from room to room to garden. They appear to be examining random thoughts on just about everything. They are, however, very specific. There are a series of “How To’s” – How To set A Table In An Emergency; How To Do A Job You Don’t Know How To Do; How To Survive a Loss; How To Have The Last Word.
You get the feeling that they would be like that at dinner together, each saying a different thing and being in sync at the same time.
Lois I heard that moths don’t really have a desire to die, no suicide tendency that causes them to fling themselves at the flame or the porch light. It’s because they navigate by the light of the moon and our artificial light confuses them. It disrupts their connection and gets between them and the moon.
Peggy When I die, I want a bucket by my bed where I can empty all my thoughts out of my brain and into the bucket and someone can put them on a hard drive or make a diamond ring out of them or press me into a vinyl.
Lois You know I never know where you are going with your stories but when you get there I always say, oh yeah.
This is a piece that is both intimate and public. It makes you think inside and outside yourself. Treat your muddled vulnerable self to this echo of our collective experience. And IF you do, stick around for the after-talk which is enlightening.
Last Gasp WFH was developed in a site-specific Zoom format using their quarantine home as a structural visual anchor. A house becomes a stage for the experience of sheltering in place, serving both as an intimate capsule of sequestered time and an apt reflection on the precarious nature of our bodies and the planet we call home. The team found new avenues to the classic Split Britches aesthetic.Experimenting with new ways of making and finding joy in a pandemic, Split Britches collaborated with lighting and video designer and editor Nao Nagai who was onsite in the house, sound designer and composer Vivian Stoll who was in New York, and choreographer Morgan Thorson to create a new format for performance that could be shared from a time of quarantine.Tickets for the live stream range from $5 to $25 and are available now at https://www.stellartickets.com/events/la-mama-experimental-theatre-club/last-gasp-wfh.