Lavishly billed "OUT on the Edge 1995," this year's Festival of Lesbian and Gay Theater, sponsored by The Theater Offensive, features two intensely personal stories as its centerpieces. Peggy Shaw's You're Just Like My Father is a knockout slice of lesbian life while Craig Hickman '90 gyrates his way into the trials of growing up black in skin and ornaments. Written by its performers, the pieces explore the one-person-show format, to polar degrees of success.
You're Just Like My Father is a conflicted, primal and ultimately moving play about a woman's search for personal identity, through the lens of a macho male stereotype. Transcending the superficialities of sexual and political correctness, Shaw performs a personal yet objective piece about her journey to self-realization.
The piece's structure is its most striking aspect. Shaw breaks from narrative and arranges the piece as a series of pictures in seeming disarray, yet with an intangible coherence. She expresses states of being, not events--chronology is abandoned for theme.
Within this framework, Shaw creates other innovations of form. She has a heated argument with a lover in which she plays both parts. She makes no distinction between her and her lover. The dialogue fuses into an exhilarating burst of angry words, as if to say that an argument between lovers intertwined is an argument between indistinguishable parts of the same whole.
Shaw is a formidable and charismatic figure on stage, introducing herself by wrapping her breasts and hands like a boxer preparing for a fight. She filters her identity as a butch lesbian through images of a military man and a male gigolo.
As for her political message, Shaw does not merely express it, she embodies it. Apart from the standard queer affirmation of homosexuality as natural (a theme of many gay and lesbian plays), Shaw confronts the political stigma of the bull dyke within the lesbian community.
As current rhetoric often discourages lesbians from identifying with male images, Shaw points out that she is not the only one to have encountered strong male influences. She says, "Like most lesbians, I really admired my father." Shaw points out that beyond the political debates are individual lesbians who resent being ostracized for having identified with men.
You're Just Like My Father finds ways to reinvent the one-woman, coming-of-age, queer play to create a truly superlative theater piece. She continues to push the boundaries of gay and lesbian theater, proving that the genre is alive and well.
Whatever You're Just Like My Father is, skin and ornaments is not. An indulgent and intensely boring self-portrait, Craig Hickman's piece proves that the standard queer coming-of-age play has lost its novelty, and that gay playwrights really need to move on.
Hickman tries ever so hard to live up to the festival's title, "OUT on the Edge," and fails at every, attempt, Nudity, simulated sex and cross-dressing are paraded by the audience as if to prove that Hickman is truly at the outer limits of experimental theater. Somebody should tell him that it's all been done before, and far better.
Hickman rambles on for more than an hour about his life experiences, assuming that their mere existence is enough to wow any audience. He presents the situations plaguing him with very little insight. As he talks about black gay men not being attracted to black gay men, or dramatizes a rape that he had experienced, he lapses into the most disastrous pitfall of a one-man show: self-indulgence.
With blinding speed, he moves from being raped to meeting someone and sleeping with him, legs spread eagerly. Hickman treats his experiences so blithely that no sympathy ever moves the audience. He doesn't have anything substantial to say in this piece. All he seems to need is a little attention.
Aside from these problems, Hickman also took forever with his costume changes, leaving the audience to wonder when he'd finish gazing at himself in the mirror. One change look over two minutes, an unbearable wait for a dark and empty stage during a performance. Another annoyance was the 45 minute delay, which occurred last Friday and Saturday nights.
It is unfortunate that skin and ornaments, the only show that plays all three weekends of "OUT on the Edge 1995," is a far cry from the festival's theme. You're Just Like My Father more than makes up for it. A show this engrossing only comes out once in a great while.