"Sound of Music was one of those love-to-hate movies for me," says Maile Flanagan, explaining why she decided to create a one-woman parody of the Rodgers and Hammerstein schmaltz classic.
"Everything is so sickly sweet, and you know it's such a twisted reality underneath. Julie Andrews's character is so nice it's unbelievable, and the relationships are so perverted: That terrifyingly strict Austrian father, and then there are all the children; Liesl, who is just flowing with sexuality and doesn't know where to put it. And she's supposed to be 16 going on 17, and she's played by an actress who is like 25. She's the same age as Julie Andrews. And then there is their friend Max, who is like whoring the kids into music."
In Flanagan's version all the musical's "weird psychosexual subtext" is brought to the surface: the nuns are all lesbians, Captain von Trapp is a sadist, Liesl is a bisexual slut, and Maria has the spaced-out quality of someone in major denial.
"Someone said to me after a performance last week, "Well, you're obviously dealing with your Catholic guilt.' I wanted to say, "Fuck off!' But I didn't," Flanagan snickers.
The daughter of "very Irish Catholic" parents, Flanagan, an army brat, was born in Hawaii (Maile is Hawaiian for Mary) and spent her childhood in Thailand and Germany.
Like Maria in the Sound of Music, Flanagan had aspirations of being a nun but was ill-suited for the calling. She admired Sister Elizabeth, her second grade teacher. "Probably I was in love with her, but in my mind I thought I wanted to be a nun," she says.
She remembers that Sister Elizabeth once made her class stand erect with their arms outstretched for three minutes. "We were like, "Come on! Our hands hurt!"' she says, and then recalls Sister Elizabeth's reply: "Your arms hurt, do they not? Jesus was up on the cross for an entire day. You only had three minutes.' We were like, "He was Jesus! We are second graders!"'
Flanagan now relishes the moment as fodder for her take on the Sound of Music, providing one more opportunity to react to Catholic school sadomasochism. While attending Boston College--which she describes as a "Catholic crusty, snotty, conservative school"--she became involved in theater, performing with an improv group called My Mother's Fleabag. Eventually the group moved to Cape Cod and then on to Minneapolis, where she spent some time doing stand-up.
"I pretty much stopped doing stand-up clubs because I hate them," she says. "They all hate fags, and will tell you that much. And I can't do that anymore. I always used to end up following someone who was a total fag basher. And it's really hard to stomach. What little stand-up I do is for a mostly queer audience. . . . As for serious theater, I can't do much of that. The parts for me are mostly character roles--dykes, boys, creatures. If one of those comes up, I'm in. Otherwise I write and perform my own stuff."
Nothing else Flanagan has written has been as popular as her one-woman Sound of Music. The show has had two long, sold-out runs in Minneapolis.
"You know, Victor/Victoria was in Minneapolis while I was doing this show. And now they are going to be here while I am here. They are going to think I am stalking Julie Andrews," she snickers, adding that she does have a certain thing for Andrews.
"I love to mimic her voice because it is so saccharine sweet. And when you just twist it a little bit or put it in a situation where it's chock-full of sick sexual innuendo it's even funnier. Because whenever somebody is as pure and virginal and asexual as Maria, the implication is that sometime, somewhere they like being roped up by a dominatrix."
Maile Flanagan's One-Woman Sound of Music will be performed through July 31 at 10:30 PM Fridays and Saturdays, 7 PM Sundays, and 8 PM Mondays at Zebra Crossing Theatre, 4223 N. Lincoln. Tickets cost $10. Call 549-9379.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/John Noltner.