La MaMa kicks off 2014 with two offerings by Split Britches, New York’s premiere lesbian performance troupe: “Ruff,” Peggy Shaw’s performance about life and art following her 2011 stroke, and “Desperate Archives,” a gallery show of installations made from remnants of the company’s last 20 years of work.
“Ruff” is performed by Peggy Shaw; it is written by Shaw and Lois Weaver and directed by Weaver. “Desperate Archives” features contributions by Vivian Stoll, Stormy Brandenberger, Susan Young, Lori E Seid, Matt Delbridge, Helaine Gawlica, Eva Weiss, Saskia Scheffer, Jo Palmer and the Man Meat Collective.
In “Ruff,” her latest solo show, Peggy Shaw throws off the stigma of age and embraces the joy – and necessity – of creating new work since her stroke in 2011. She unashamedly exposes the emotional and technological accommodations she now requires to perform onstage. In so doing, she offers a rare glimpse at the art of aging. “Ruff” comes to La MaMa following a critically acclaimed run at the 2013 Coil Festival and an extremely popular European tour. It will be presented in La MaMa’s First Floor Theater, 74A East Fourth Street, January 9-26, 2014.
Charles Isherwood (New York Times) called it “an impressionistic monologue that’s engaging, admirably unsentimental and often very funny indeed.” Eva Yaa Asantewaa, writing The Infinite Body, called it “an intimate, affecting lesson in empathy.” She noted that Shaw is “a legend in queer, progressive theater” and that the show amounts to her post-stroke comeback, “a marvelous one – and a way of sharing what it feels like to know that some memories and resources that made you what you are are now unretrievable.”
Shaw wrote the piece in collaboration with her long-time collaborator, Lois Weaver, who directed it. Choreography is by Stormy Brandenberger, music and sound design are by Vivian Stoll, set and media design are by Matt Delbridge and lighting is by Lori E. Seid.
The show is a footloose cabaret of stories, revelations, songs and confessions. It is performed largely on a “green screen of her mind,” where she interacts with unearthed memories and the video projection of a band. She describes her mental reshuffling, uncovers memories and songs and shares tales of family members and movie icons who have inspired her. The stroke left potholes in her mind that she’s had to drive around, but now she rejoices that she can fill them with new insights. “Ruff” is also an exploration of what it means to perform with a compromised brain. Shaw does not conceal three teleprompters that keep her on track, instead she bares them as important props. The title refers to “three stroke rough,” a drum phrase you learn when you take up playing the drums. It’s a metaphor for starting over.
When the show toured to London’s Chelsea Theatre, the Times of London called it “Truculent and funny, swaggering and sensitive, Shaw is extraordinary.” Edinburgh Festival Magazine wrote, “Shaw’s obsession with bones, with origins and what lies at our core is what drives a powerful hour of deeply personal probing … I sincerely urge you to spend an hour in the hands of a genius.” The Guardian called the piece “Exquisite … This is open-heart surgery of the artistic kind, performed without anaesthetic.”
It was meant for “Ruff” to ultimately be presented by La MaMa, since the theater has been a significant venue for Shaw’s work. Her notable La MaMa shows include “Menopausal Gentleman,” “You’re Just Like Your Father,” “Belle Reprieve” (a version of “Streetcar Named Desire” that was a collaboration between Split Britches and Bloolips), “Lesbians Who Kill,” “Lust and Comfort” and “Salad of the Bad Cafe” with Stacy Makishi. Shaw’s stroke occurred the day after the funeral of Ellen Stewart, the “mama” of La MaMa, who produced much of Shaw’s singular work. In the play, Shaw declares, “The day Ellen Stewart died I dreamt she was pulling me with her, her silver fingernails digging into my shoulders and arms, dragging me down with her ’cause she was lonely.” Ellen Stewart’s desire and two other factors caused the stroke, she theorizes. The other two causes were “too many lights shining in my eyes for so many years” and “seeing a DVD of my sister’s wedding in 1957, when I was 13 years old and wearing a green dress.” Ms. Stewart was superstitious and wouldn’t permit green to be on the stage at La MaMa, so the green screen on which Shaw’s mind projects is both symbolic and an act of defiance. “I didn’t go with her,” declares Shaw, “and that was a huge moment in my life, deciding not to do everything Scorpios tell me to do.”
About “Desperate Archives”
In this gallery exhibition, Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver of Split Britches re-purpose their own archival material from the last 20 years to explore the issues of having, holding, and letting go. Remembering Hurricane Sandy, they note that you can collect for years but it only takes one storm to wash everything away. Just as a storm exposes what’s underneath the surface of a once bright and shiny thing, “Desperate Archives” reveals the infrastructure of the Split Britches’ creative process by highlighting the individual contributions made by many collaborators.
The show includes paintings by Peggy Shaw, sketch books by Lois Weaver, video footage never seen before, iconic photos by Eva Weiss and Saskia Scheffer, multiple clips of dances choreographed by Stormy Brandenberger and a variety of costumes by Susan Young, some animated. There will be wardrobes containing “butch” and “femme” installations and photos of audiences. A collection of musical compositions by Vivial Stoll will be on sale. Matt Delbridge is designing a green screen photo booth app with which you take take a self-portrait and then put yourself onstage with Split Britches. The Man Meat Collective will offer performance interventions live in La Galleria from 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM on evenings there are shows of “Ruff” in the First Floor Theater. Some installation designs are by Split Britches’ production manager, Jo Palmer, and the show is being assembled in collaboration with Split Britches archivist Helaine Gawlica.
La MaMa’s La Galleria is located at 6 East First Street. This exhibition will be offered January 3-19, 2014, Wednesdays – Sundays, 1:00 PM -7:30 PM. Opening is January 3, 6:00 PM -9:00 PM
About Split Britches
The performance troupe Split Britches was founded in 1981 by Peggy Shaw, Lois Weaver and Deb Margolin (all veterans of Hot Peaches and Spiderwoman Theater) at NYC’s WOW Cafe (an outgrowth of the WOW International Theater Festivals there of 1980 and 1981). Split Britches received an Obie in 1986 for sustained excellence and in 1987 Shaw received an Obie for best actor in “Dress Suits for Hire.” Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver became New York’s preeminent lesbian performance duo, known for “a long line of smart, thrillingly well-executed performance pieces” (Katherine Dieckmann, Village Voice) and “tough intellectual and verbal content” (John Hammond, The Native).
If You Go:
La MaMa La Galleria, 6 East 1st Street
January 3-19, 2014
Wednesdays – Sundays, 1:00 PM -7:30 PM
Opening January 3, 6:00 PM -9:00 PM
Info: (212) 505-2476.
“Ruff,” performed by Peggy Shaw, written by Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver, directed by Lois Weaver.
La MaMa’s First Floor Theater, 74A East Fourth Street
January 9-26, 2014
Thursdays – Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Sundays at 2:30 PM
$20 gen. adm, $15 students & seniors. Special [email protected]: first ten tickets of every show are $10.
Box office (212) 475-7710, www.lamama.org