So, I went to see a play this weekend: That Pretty Pretty; or The Rape Play, by Sheila Callaghan, currently playing at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. With a title like that, you can expect some button-pushing, and the play did not disappoint on that front.
I don’t want to give it away, because if you’re in the New York area, I would encourage you to see it (it runs through March 15), because in addition to being funny and grotesque and worrisome, it’s explicitly about issues of concern to feminists: the representation of women in popular culture–movies, television, and of course, plays–and how that can mean “raunch” culture; food, weight, and body issues (an aerobicizing Jane Fonda appears frequently as a coach to the other characters), competition betweeen women for male approval, and the intersection of race/ethnicity, religion, and disability with gender oppression.
Yeah, that’s a lot to handle, but all of these issues circle arounnd power and control: who is allowed control over a given individual’s body, who controls the images that are produced and distributed in the contemporary US, how control can be–and is–enforced on both personal and national levels, in silence and peace, in “fun” cultural products and representations, as well as with threats and outright violence. The thing I liked best about it (other than I left with a lot to think about) is how, by placing all of these types and methods of oppression together, without trying to explicitly link them, causally, Callaghan demonstrates that they are really all of a piece (and for those of you just tuning in, that piece would be The Patriarchy).
It’s not merely an intellectual exercise, either. While it deals with some Big Issues, its non-traditional structure and often pointedly non-realistic acting kept it from being lecture-y. In the moment, the production was completely engaging, if not always instantly transparent (there is quite a bit of meta-theatrical stuff going on throughout). I found the acting quite strong, and the entire cast, while more than game for all the ridiculous, silly, and/or offensive stuff the play required of them (Lisa Joyce as Agnes particularly stood out), they never lacked the brains or heart necessary to make the material “land.” This isn’t an unqualified rave; there were a very few moments that didn’t work as well for me, or which seemed slightly dated, but these were minor flaws, and the questions the play raises–but never answers–more than make up for them.
All this to say: go see it. In light of the book discussion we had last week, I would urge you (and I’m sure Callaghan would too, even if it weren’t her own work) to support cultural products made by women. While that’s no guarantee of quality–or even feminist values–it does make a difference. By supporting women’s work with our money, time, and attention, whether that work manifests itself as a book, a movie, a play, a lecture, or a material good of whatever kind (Pilgrim Soul would cry “Etsy!”), we’re saying that women’s voices, thoughts, perspectives, experiences, abilities, labor, et cetera, matter.
If you’ve seen the play, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. If you haven’t, well, what are you waiting for? In either case, you can leave comments and links to your recent favorite woman-made products below.