What is it about a woman with a gun? Something about that iconic image, whether it's Annie Oakley or Bonnie Parker (of "and Clyde" fame), mesmerizes Americans. We write musicals about them, make movies about them, throw parties and form fan clubs in their honor—even if they were, in fact, cruel and reprehensible people.
Marya Sea Kaminski (actor, writer, solo performer, Stranger Genius Award winner) first fell in love with Bonnie Parker when she saw a photo of her playfully holding a shotgun to Clyde Barrow's chest. "There's something totally romantic about the image of the runaway couple," she says. "But they were monsters. They killed people for chump change."
This tension—between the romance and the horror of women on shooting sprees—is at the heart of Kaminski's new solo show-in-progress, Riddled. For Bumbershoot, she'll play some of the show's music with backing band Bonnie and the Robberie (Riddled is basically a one-woman musical), perform some of the text, and try some experiments with the audience. "I have an elaborate soundscape in my head for the romance of Bonnie and Clyde," she says. "I think the audience will get balloons and, at the right moment, they'll all pop them in a chorus of gunfire."
Kaminski has her own history with guns. Her father, who had a strong conspiracy-theory/survivalist streak, gave her and each of her siblings carbines as gifts when they were just 4 or 5 years old. They made their own shotgun shells in the backyard. And when he died, they found "at least a hundred" guns—besides the ones they already knew about—hidden in a trash can in the basement. "He was getting ready for the apocalypse," she says. "And as I get older and track the rest of my family getting older, I see that paranoia gene manifesting."
"For me, it's about personal assault. When that guy was killed with a pickax on Capitol Hill, it lived with me vividly. If a stranger gets too close, I feel myself getting ready to fight."
And how does she deal with that paranoia?
"I try to hang out with as many normal people as possible. I'll go to a friend's house and see how they do things and try to emulate them."
While researching Riddled, Kaminski has been asking people why they thought a woman with a gun was such a magnetic image in American culture. "The men tend to say it's about power reversal," she says. "I was in New York at a bar and asked this guy, and he tried to pick me up with this line: 'It's like when you give a child a gun—the powerless get powerful.' And a lot of guys say it's like seeing a girl in a bikini stretched across a car, like it's typically a guy-guy thing and it's sexy to see a woman be into it."
Women, on the other hand, tend to talk about repressed rage. "Women put up with a lot of shit in this culture, and there's a lot of vicarious living," Kaminski says. "The sexiness of the image comes from the contrast."
Riddled is a new creative direction for Kaminski. As an actor, she has an almost terrifying ability to channel the pain of others—her performances in Crave at Washington Ensemble Theatre and Elektra at Seattle Shakespeare Company are permanently burned into my neurological system—but most of her solo work has been about herself. "My work to date has been soooo autobiographical," she says. "But how many times can you explain your own life? This show feels like a revolution for me."
Kaminski says she wrote the first version of Riddled "painstakingly" earlier this year, then tore it all up after reading it aloud with local director Braden Abraham and some other artists during a theater-makers' retreat at nearby Smoke Farm. "Reading it, it was like meh. There were too many characters, too much exposition, everybody was explaining themselves. Now I'm just throwing out tons of material and swimming around in it."
It takes guts to do something painstakingly, then tear it up and throw it away in an instant—more guts than to riddle someone with bullets for chump change.