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Reviews by Brandon Judell

Peggy Shaw and the Perils of Mid-Life

Peggy Shaw in “Menopausal Gentleman.” Photo by Craig Bailey.

"Menopausal Gentleman"
Presented by La MaMa E.T.C.
(Production commissioned and first presented in NYC by Dixon Place.)
La MaMa E.T.C. (Annex Theater), 74A East Fourth Street
December 14 to 22, 2000
Reviewed by Brandon Judell December 17, 2000
(212) 475-7710
There he is in front of you, under a spare spotlight, in a tasteful, gray pinstriped suit with red suspenders, a white dress shirt, a red art deco tie, red socks, and a pair of solid brown shoes that any Wall Street businessman would be proud to make a deal or two in. He's sort of a stocky Sean Penn, you might proffer.

But then he opens his mouth and speaks, growls, croons, lip-synchs and soft-shoes. You quickly realize your eyes have betrayed you. That's no gent. That's the no-doubt-soon-to-be-legendary Peggy Shaw who's done for butch lesbian theater over the decades what Campbell's has done for cream of mushroom soup: canned it and made it accessible for the masses.

"Drag is dirty work, but someone has to do it!" the late Charles Pierce noted, and few do better than Obie-winning Ms. Shaw, who in the past has raised consciences and quickened heartbeats as a member of the stellar lesbianic Split Britches; as Stanley Kowalsky in a reversed-gendered version of Streetcar Named Desire entitled Belle Reprieve; as one of the titular characters in Lesbians Who Kill, plus in dozens of other productions that fetishistic Shawites will reenact for you if you let them.

Now as you probably know, going around in male drag has never been an easy task or one that you'll likely be rewarded for. Look what happened to the crispy St. Joan. Well, if you think that was tough, try being a woman who dresses as a man, who's experiencing menopause. As her suddenly estranged body says hello to calcium supplements and brittle bones and good-bye to her once reproductive eggs, Shaw fights hard to make sense of the biological permutations she's going through.

And she succeeds brilliantly if you overlook the fact that she finds herself roaring like a tiger, going through mood swings, reminiscing obsessively about old loves, and crawling on the floor in this hour-long one-woman show. Getting wrinkled has never been more edifying.

So call her an East Village Lily Tomlin or the love child of Sappho and Jimmy Durante, just call on her quickly. This show only runs till December 22.

Which brings me to the novelist Ivan Turgenev. The Russian chap said of George Sand, the French trouser-wearing writer upon her death, "What a good man she was, and what a kind woman." Whenever Ms. Shaw should join her dead eggs in heaven, hopefully many decades from now, I'm sure Ivan would be pleased if we borrowed his elegy and applied it to this lovely performance artist. Truer words could not be said.

It should be said here that the adroit lighting design was by Sue Baynton and the entertaining musical arrangements and clever sound effects were supplied by Vivien Stoll. [Judell]

Copyright © Brandon Judell 2000

Brandon Judell is a contributing editor to Detour magazine and film critic for indieWire.com.

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