The first thing I saw when I walked through the door of Annex Theatre was eight women chilling out around a giant tub. At first, I thought they were going to start catcalling me. Was I to get a taste of what it feels like to be a woman in a world dominated by the male gaze simply walking through a door? But they were just chatting with each other, and they welcomed conversation.
Actor Erin Bednarz was posted up in the tub, snacking on a bag of Lay's potato chips and knocking back a can of LaCroix like some kind of internet persona. Do women bathe as much as pop culture suggests they do? Is it really that relaxing to eat potato chips in the tub and drink fizzy water, or is this just a tableau of indulgence as liberation? Is it realness? Is it fake realness? Is it real fake realness? There’s a lot of signifying going on, but the vision isn’t clear enough to say what’s being signified.
Or maybe the joke was on me and the can was full of Confused Male Tears–flavored La Croix.
In the moment, I pretended along with her, trying to fit in. What the fuck was I doing pretending like I eat unhealthy snacks in baths to relax? I would never do that. I’m too big for baths. I hate cheap chips. Anyhow, the LaCroix was a place of common ground, and Bednarz and I talked about it for a while before I moved on to the Annex bar, where I joined the rest of the audience for a prefatory and humorous slide show presentation about the rules of the play.
As my initial experience with the cast indicated, Girl is a choose-your-own-adventure immersive theater experience about the thousand-million choices that women have to make in a given day, as well as the choices that people of all genders make when interacting with women. The setup flips the script on ye olde performer/audience dynamics. Though the actors embody characters who are exploring ideas about consent and choice, the audience is literally exploring ideas about consent and choice by interacting with the actors.
In collaboration with scenic designer Jenna Ryan, director Mary Hubert has transformed the theater into an apartment full of roomies, all of whom appear to be pre-gaming for a mysterious costume party. The roomies direct audience members through the apartment, act out brief scenes, and operate activities.
There are only a handful of scenes. One involves two women being variously mean and supportive of each other while talking about Lean Cuisine, and the other is a melodramatic but thankfully short “jumper” involving bungee cords and high-volume Bjork. Interstitial bits make up the rest. In general, the actors are a little too aware of their jokes and a little too aware of their drama.
The whole thing was really feeling like an episode of the play’s televisual cousin (just add an “s”), until the moment an actor who spoke with a German accent, Kayla Walker, asked me to put makeup on her.
She encouraged me to paw through several little vinyl bags to find the liquid foundation. My inexperience with makeup was making me nervous, as was the fact that I was more or less alone with her in a hallway. In my haste, I opened up the wrong container too quickly and blasted myself with green glitter. Okay, I get it: The pressure to conform to beauty standards makes life difficult in many different little ways.
After applying the foundation to a wedge-shaped sponge, I realized I was standing very close to Walker. In order to diffuse the intimacy of the moment, I had to adopt the persona of some kind of knight figure—she was a damsel in distress, and I had to help get her ready for the party. In order to touch her, I pretended that I was a gay makeup artist who was going to make her fabulous. Okay, I get it: This Cut Piece–lite situation reveals that I contain sexist multitudes. Rape culture influences our inner selves, but we can work to choose to suppress those facets that make the world unsafe for women.
The scenes that will feel like revelations and/or reminders of gender inequity will depend on where you’re at in your women’s studies courses. Academics aside, the play is weird, it’s funny, it’s cheap, it’s blissfully short, and it’s witchy. Go to it, and then go to another bar afterward to talk about the complexity of contemporary gender dynamics. Happy summer!