BUTCH THE SMOKING COW: THREE SOLOS
Free Street Theater
BLUSHING UNDER THE MUSHROOM
at the Neo-Futurarium
What a great time I had last weekend--saw three wildly entertaining and mildly didactic solos performed by Free Street Theater, then saw Blushing Under the Mushroom, a collection of low-key but no less entertaining new monologues performed by the Neo-Futurists, proud parents of Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. You'd think you'd feel inundated, with so many monologues in one weekend, but no. These were all top-notch performances and lots of fun.
Butch the Smoking Cow: Three Solos is the title Free Street Theater has given its monologues: "La Vache Sauvage ('The Savage Cow')," "Lana Smoking," and "Out Comes Butch." "Out Comes Butch" is a hilarious, audacious, partly improvised monologue by Free Street director David Schein. At the beginning Butch is a carpenter, the ultimate insensitive male, ranting and raving to the audience about "that bitch," his wife. But then he excuses himself: "I got personal problems. You can see that." The audience starts laughing. "You don't have personal problems?" he asks a young guy in the second row. And the guy answers truthfully, because Schein has an uncanny way of connecting with his audience.
So Butch tells us all about his problems. His wife wouldn't give him any sex, the house was a mess, the kid stunk, and then finally she left him. But Butch is a thinking man, even if he isn't a smart man. He starts reading those self-help books, becomes a sensitive male, and quits his carpentry job and gets one in a music store. Transforms his life totally. So much so that he gets friendly with his dance-aerobics instructor, Steve.
Steve teaches Butch a few things about sex, and Butch falls in love, transforming himself into the ultimate sensitive male, the homosexual house bunny: "I'd put on Mahler and he'd maul me and I'd maul him." The stereotype gets pushed to the hilt, and with a bit of surgery, Butch transforms himself into another sexual stereotype, the well-shaped, totally desirable woman. And the transformations go on, and on . . .
Dana Block's "La Vache Sauvage" has some holes in the story, but Block's strong acting carries the piece. Block is fascinated by cows. Like many women she identifies with them, but she takes it much further than the simple "I am such a cow! I've got to lose weight!" song and dance.
Instead she plays a marvelously bovine, cud-chewing, boom-ba-booming French cow, who in her soul doesn't want to be a commodity. The piece centers around the true story of a cow that escaped from a slaughterhouse in a small French town and took refuge in a bakery. This is the jumping-off point for Block to explore cowness, oppression, and submission from a variety of points of view.
She's transformed into a child watching the cows being corralled into boxcars at night, a woman looking for a suitable self-image, and another kid jumping rope who warns of the dangers awaiting cows. Block makes it fascinating to imagine cows' thought processes and think about their dangerous destinies, but she doesn't give a strong reason to care about their imminent doom. I would like to have seen more real women playing up the similarities between the treatment of women and the treatment of cows. That might have given "La Vache Sauvage" the bite it needs.
The third solo, "Lana Smoking," is pure woman. Written by Tanya White and performed by Michelle Banks, "Lana Smoking" is about sex. Sex from a woman's point of view. That makes me very happy. I've had enough of sex from a man's point of view, a perspective so highly developed it's become dry and dull. White deconstructs the male image of sex and rebuilds it from a distinctly female, African American perspective.
Lana is a stripper, part of that male-controlled world of commercial sex. But Lana has her own agenda. She has a point to make, and "It's not about titties." You see, Lana likes sex. She gets to the heart of the matter and explores its intricacies. "It is said that women use sex to get love. Is it unimaginable to use sex to get sex? To want love and sex? Maybe not at the same time."
She talks about women as sexual objects, men as objects of desire, and the power of the truly erotic. For half the show Lana wears no clothes, and it's a very liberating experience to see a woman butt-naked onstage discussing sex with the ease of a woman talking about a new pair of summer sandals. But for all Lana's candor, we find that sex is a complicated, shadowy subject. White explores the different faces of eroticism, not necessarily telling us that this is how it ought to be but providing an alluring alternative all the same.
Blushing Under the Mushroom's 11 monologues, written and performed by four members of the Neo-Futurists, have a refreshingly comfortable feel. I think it's because the Neo-Futurists don't try too hard to be entertaining. They don't really act. They don't really put on a show. They just kind of, well, talk to you. And tell you stories, good stories. Most of these stories are true. Greg Allen tells a great one about how he got shot in the leg in a "bike-by shooting," and Ayun Halliday talks about a boyfriend who was a "demigod in the bathtub," creating a magical sexual world out of bubble bath. Dave Awl discusses the virtues of smashing lemon drops on the sidewalk to vent your anger.
What makes these stories so appealing is their intelligence. The best ones take a simple occurrence, something that's probably happened to all of us at some time or another, and put it in a context that provides a bit of enlightenment on the human condition. My favorite is Lisa Buscani's "Flat Black," which ties together the horror flicks she watched as a kid, Jeffrey Dahmer's photos, and a story about the time her sister was five hours late coming home. "Flat Black" was unrehearsed on opening night. Buscani did little more than read from a pile of single-spaced typewritten pages and use a few props to illustrate her points. But her unassuming and heartfelt delivery made any sort of acting technique seem unnecessary.
When her sister comes home safely, they go out for a drink and, Buscani says, "I laughed a lot harder. It was my right. It was my story." Somehow certain experiences seem worth having if truly good stories can be had out of them. The Neo-Futurists understand this. While not all of their monologues are polished or perfected, their stories are definitely worth listening to.