NY's La MaMa will present a one-week engagement of Faith and Dancing: mapping femininity and other natural disasters, written and performed by Split Britches's Lois Weaver, May 6-9.
Weaver, together with Peggy Shaw (Menopausal Gentlemen) and Deb Margolin co-founded the legendary performance group Split Britches in 1981. The company received an OBIE in 1986 for sustained excellence, with Weaver winning an OBIE for ensemble acting for the company's 1991 reversed-gender version of A Streetcar Named Desire, titled Belle Reprieve. Weaver has been Artistic Director of the Gay Sweatshop in London, where Faith originated .
Faith and Dancing plays in conjunction with Split Britches's latest piece, also at La MaMa, Salad of the Bad Cafe playing through May 15. Salad of the Bad Cafe takes its title from the Carson McCullers' novel "Ballad of the Sad Cafe." The plot of the novel, set in a southern mill town during the Depression, concerns a triangle of unrequited love: an eccentric female bootlegger/doctor dotes on a homosexual hunchbacked dwarf who in turn loves an embittered convict, once the bootlegger's husband. The pain of all this builds to a violent fist fight between the bootlegger and the convict, witnessed by the entire town.
The novel was first adapted for the stage by Edward Albee, for a Broadway run in 1963. Split Britches's take on the tale will more than likely be a hodgepodge of gender confusion, songs, and Brechtian alienation.
Since the late 70's -- way before it was hip -- the Split Britches theater company have been making lesbian-feminist theater in the United States and Europe. Comprising Lois Weaver, Peggy Shaw and Deborah Margolin, the company takes classic American texts, like Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women" and Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire, and revisits them through the context of contemporary gender/feminist criticism. The shows not only lampoon their original subjects but raise audience awareness of subtle messages usually left unexplored in the texts. Their largest success is probably 1991's Belle Reprieve , a take on Streetcar, which was a collaboration with British drag performance artists "Bloolips." The production had the reverse genders playing the roles, as when Shaw, a genetic female, played Stanley. The exception was Bloolips's Precious Pearl -- a genetic male who performs in female clothing; he played Mitch. Belle was a serious investigation into the gender roles -- as written by Williams in Streetcar -- of the ultra-masculine Stanley and the weak, performative Blanche.
Other plays by Split Britches include: Beauty and the Beast, Upwardly Mobile Home, and Little Women.
Weaver's Faith, her first solo piece, is a companion piece to Shaw's You're Just Like Your Father. Both had been previously presented by La MaMa. Faith deals with Weaver's relationship with her mother, a strict Baptist. When Weaver was growing up, she wanted to be a dancer. That was frowned upon by the Baptists, and here, Weaver tracks her sexuality and her desires to dance with Faith.
For tickets or more information on Faith and Dancing, call (212) 475 7710.
-- By Sean McGrath