Posted by: strugglesome | September 12, 2012

Funny Lady: Charlotte Ford’s Bang

It’s clear that women just can’t really be funny. Despite the generations of female comedians, comic actresses, wry authoresses and just and social indications that women can both tell and understand jokes, it’s clear that women can’t be funny. Despite the recent extreme popularity of female writers/performers like Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig, to name four among thousands, it’s clear women can’t be funny. Or if they CAN by some aberration, they sure as hell can’t be attractive doing so. I mean, that’s just crazy talk, right?

But if women could be funny, and sexy, or funny and talking about sex, or sexy and talking about being funny, what would be the appropriate forum to explore that? A courtroom? A classroom? A sex show? Well, what would be the most fun? Because its girls and laughs and sex all in a room together, someone should be having fun. And Charlotte Ford, along with Lee Etzold and Sarah Sanford, must be having fun. At least, I hope they’re having fun, because they bring the audience so much fun that it would be a shame if it was one-sided. (That’s what she said).

In Bang, conceived by Ford,  co-created by Etzold and Sanford and directed by Emmanuelle Delpech, three women, Gail, Barb and Cheyenne, find themselves alone, together, in a half circle of long red curtains, standing in front of an audience who eagerly anticipates a performance. Of what, the women ask, one indignant, two eager to please? A sex show, of course! While Gail is ready to explode, Flustered Barb and hippie-dippy Cheyenne are intrigued and excited, ready to give us a show, or what they think a sex show ought to be. What it actually turns out to be is a hilarious side-splitting series of moments and comedic, well, vignettes isn’t the right word, but neither is scenes, really. Moments, perhaps, or miniature events, or maybe just a series of individual comedy shows, each circling back to the same subject, and that is, sex can be funny. Women can be funny. Both SHOULD be funny, and fun. And owning that, as a woman, is the best thing you can do to MAKE those things fun. Oh, and sometimes, it just makes sense to get naked.

Each woman has her own persona, and her own goals on the stage. Sanford’s is repressed, buttoned up, intellectualized to the extreme. She wears her clothing like an armor, until a fit of anger strips her down to her turtleneck (and nothing else) daring us to sexualize her. Her task will be one of liberation. Etzold’s is eager to please but rather unbalanced, happy to dance and show off her booty but unsure how to really please a man. Her task will be one of confidence. And Ford’s fairy-child-earth-mother-sandlewood scented nymph is, well, she’s all in, she dares men to just come up on stage and fuck her. And it is she who leads her compatriots through the wilds of insecurity and modesty, and through to a marvelous nude walk through the streets of Philadelphia and into our hearts and minds. All three of these performers are magnificent, there is no other word for it. Their performances are all different, but their skill, adeptness and willingness to go further than anyone expects is simply admirable.

This is, quite simply, one of the funniest shows I’ve seen in a long time. It uses the audience brilliantly and simply, involving us both literally, drawing men out and forcing them into uncomfortable situations in a warm and welcoming way, and figuratively, forcing us to consider our expectations in the theater, and our expectations and guilt at enjoying a sex show. And it also forces us to think about the voyeuristic experience, how most sex shows are only enjoyable for the largely male audience who witnesses them, certainly not for the performers who writhe and dance for dollars.  As Ford says, “Self care is the Sex Show”. Why shouldn’t everyone enjoy themselves talking about and laughing about sex? Of course, Ford, Etzold and Sanford could be having a horrible time up there, coaxing guffaws out of everyone in the room, but I hope that’s not the case. Because I don’t like to receive without giving.

The design is excellent as well. Katherine Fritz’s costumes are spot on, describing and illustrating these people so completely and with such accurate detail that they give us an instant understanding of these people before they speak a word. Dan Soule’s set is minimal but well created, and Oona Curley’s lights marry with Dan Perelstein’s excellent sound work to create an excellent stage upon which these three ladies can get freaky.

Comedy can be theater’s most powerful critical weapon. So why have women been excluded from its creation for so long? To be fair, women have been excluded from all artistic expression for centuries, but somewhere along the way someone decided that it’s unattractive for a woman to have a sense of humor. Women are some of the funniest people I know. We go through immense pain bringing new people into the world and then, afterwards, somehow we can smile, we can laugh, we can even make fun of ourselves during the experience. We can detach. And comedy is all about distance. So do we laugh at Bang because it’s so far from sex, or because it’s so close? I couldn’t tell you, honestly. I just know that it’s gloriously funny without ever making light of female sexuality, it’s liberating on some level, for the audience, certainly and hopefully for the performers as well.

Bang has ended its short run at the Philadelphia Live Arts/Fringe Festival, but I sincerely hope it is performed again. It’s just too much fun not to live on. I do hope they don’t make us beg….

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