Split Britches has audience in stitches

What’s a performance without cross-dressing, photographing each member of the audience, and eating an entire raw lemon?

Straight theater.

And theater that has all of these things? Well, it must be “One Night Stand” by the lesbian performance company Split Britches.

Split Britches, a troupe comprised of Peggy Shaw, Lois Weaver and Deb Margolin, came to the Frear in LPAC on Tuesday evening to give Swatties a taste of queer performance and an evening free of political correctness.

Shaw and Weaver were the actresses of the show; Margolin was not here this evening, though she did come last year to give a staged reading of her play “Imagining Madoff.”

“One Night Stand” started with Shaw, dressed in a suit and of indeterminate gender, sitting in the audience, while Weaver, dressed in a skirt and clearly female, walking through the audience, taking a picture of and making a proclamation to each audience member.

Weaver then started singing a crude song that was full of allusions to lesbian sex, and asked the audience to sing with her by supplying the obvious word that finished each couplet. The audience did begin to sing along, if somewhat nervously. The entire show was geared towards audience engagement; the lights were up on the audience as well as the stage, and the actresses addressed the audience regularly. Later in the show, Weaver came onstage as another character and told the audience that she wanted to know something.

“Can’t you tell me anything that I need to know right now?” she asked the audience again and again. No one spoke. She started addressing individuals, asking them the same question. The invariable answer was, “No.”

“You go to this fancy school!” she told the audience. “Don’t you know anything?”

Though Weaver was funny, Shaw was the superior actress in this production. From the moment she started to speak, she was captivating. Her voice teetered on the wall separating male from female, and at times she sounded like a man and a woman at the same time. Her gestures were sharp, her mannerisms endearing in their slowness and carefulness.

“One Night Stand” did not have a defined plot; rather, as the actresses themselves said, it was a collection of some of their favorite bits from various shows. The title derives from a scene in the middle of the show, in which the actresses show what adultery looks like in America, England, and France.

“I feel so guilty that I’d say we shouldn’t do it, but I’ve already bought the hotel room,” Shaw says in the American version. In their English version they are very polite and uptight, and at the end Shaw says, “Shall we go, then?” In the French version they moan about not having Margaret, Weaver’s girlfriend, with them, and say that they will have to do it without her but it just “won’t be the same.”

Following these three scenes, in which it is again (seemingly purposefully) unclear whether Shaw is playing a woman or a man, the two sit next to each other and Weaver suggests to Shaw that they sleep with other people as a way to “Spice things up.” After much convincing, Shaw says, “Fine.”

“I’m already having an affair,” Weaver tells her.

There follows a bit of clowning, in which Shaw tells Weaver that Weaver doesn’t know what funny is, and Weaver tries to show that she does know by pulling pranks on Shaw; she pulls off Shaw’s shirtsleeves, she squirts Shaw with water, and she attempts to throw a shaving cream pie in Shaw’s face.

Each time Weaver pulled a prank the audience sat uncomfortably until Shaw said “That wasn’t funny,” at which point the audience would roar with laughter. The pranks culminated with the shaving cream pie, which Shaw shoved in Weaver’s face and which resulted in gales of laughter from the audience.

The hilarity of the end of the piece made up for its meager beginnings. The first half of the show was interesting in its innovation but lacked in movement. The bits and pieces that are the actresses’ favorites might work better in their fuller form, but did not have momentum in this piece and fell flat.

The excellent clowning at the show’s close, however, was fantastic enough to leave me wanting more.

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