Peggy Shaw, Menopausal Gentleman / Marisa Carnesky, Phenomena and Her Charms

Review in Issue 19-3 | Autumn 2007

BAC’s reinvented Burst Festival (which has replaced Octoberfest) brought us a number of excellent examples of the sort of one-person show that sits between theatre and live art, the two reviewed here in very different ways exploring notions of womanhood lost and found.

In Phenomena, Carnesky has taken a ‘cabinet of swords’ variety act, performed previously as part of the Insect Circus show, and extended it into a 20 minute installation-performance, created in collaboration with artist Sarah Munro, and set in the attic of BAC. The audience is invited to walk through a dusty attic hung with a flotsam and jetsam of objects, fetishised remnants of a lost world of feminine accoutrements. Mirrors, hair brushes, hair clips, costume jewellery, ribbons, tea cups, printed ephemera – all sorts of bits and bobs – are artfully arranged on trays that dangle from the ceiling, or draped around banisters or posts. We are welcomed in to a little den by Phenomena, who greets us with reflections on the ‘apocalyptic fairground’ world we have entered, in which nothing new gets made and junk is the new currency. The set-piece that follows, in which a giant mutated insect is placed inside the cabinet of swords, loses a little of the magic in the closeness of the audience, but is nevertheless charming and chilling in equal measure.

Menopausal Gentleman is a for-one-night-only revival of the renowned solo show by Peggy Shaw, co-founder (with Lois Weaver) of the legendary lesbian-feminist theatre company Split Britches, who made their name with a theatre of personal politics that has eschewed polemic in favour of satire and vaudeville. Menopausal Gentleman is a perfect example of the company’s ethos in action, a part confessional monologue, part stand-up comedy, part lounge lizard crooning expose of the trials and tribulations of being a butch dyke on the cusp of menopause, and therefore facing the supreme irony of regret over losing something (‘femaleness’, ‘womanly fertility’) our heroine has to this point spent a lifetime rejecting. But, as she says: ‘What’ll I do now I don’t have the blood to blame for the anger?’ Shaw, a ’53 year old grandmother who passes for a 35 year old guy who likes the ladies’, creates an extraordinary stage persona: alive with Brooklyn bravado, h/she confesses, cajoles and entertains – a life laid bare, but always with the veil of theatrical skill keeping us so close we can almost touch, but never too close for comfort. With this sort of prestigious one-off revival, I suppose it was inevitable that the audience would be made up of die-hard fans, but she really deserved thetumultuous applause that almost brought the roof down at the end. I wasn’t the only person there who felt honoured to have had a chance to witness a performance that has gone down in history as one of theatre’s seminal moments.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Festival
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. May 2007

This article in the magazine

Issue 19-3
p. 33