Read a variety of theater reviews that acclaim our performances over the years. Excerpts of each review are provided below with an external link to the full length work. An open source copy of the reviews in their entirety is available to download here.
January 18, 2011
By Jill Dolan (AKA The Feminist Spectator)
This elegiac evening with Peggy Shaw, Lois Weaver, and musician Vivian Stoll is a beautiful meditation on change, loss, and aging, delivered as a Sid Caesar/Imogene Coco- or Mike Nichols/Elaine May- style lounge act with post-modern stylings. In Dixon Place’s expansive basement black-box theatre—excavated, as Shaw and Weaver imagine, from three stories of layered dirt—the inimitable lesbian pair and their musical partner trade songs and repartee against a visual and sonic backdrop of the city being demolished and (presumably) reconstructed in unrecognizable ways. The images never picture the new; they only show us the wreckage, through an aperture that expands as the evening progresses. Lost Lounge testifies to the past, keeping its view of the present and the future only rueful.
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Lost Lounge Mourns Vanished Gothams, Celebrates Survival
December 15, 2009
By Miriam Felton-Dansky
‘Why should it be loved as a city? It is never the same city for a dozen years altogether,” wrote Harper’s Monthly in 1856, complaining of New York’s endless flux. Live in the city long enough, and you’ll inevitably lose something irreplaceable—a favorite dive bar, a beloved park. Lost Lounge—a cheerfully elegiac cabaret, starring Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver of Split Britches, itself a cherished downtown institution—mourns vanished Gothams, and celebrates survival.
Shaw and Weaver bicker, flirt, and harmonize their way through romantic vignettes, meditations on aging, and playful love songs (Vivian Stoll accompanies on keyboard). Silhouetted against the white walls of Dixon Place’s brand-new theater—Shaw in tuxedo, Weaver in crinoline—they look like lonely, elegant clowns. (Talking about bygone days in freshly renovated digs is an irony not lost on the duo.) Projected time countdowns register the piece’s own swift passage; Weaver consoles spectators on their personal New York losses. In the end, their wry recollections begin to seem like solace for the city’s relentless pace of change.
MUST: THE INSIDE STORY
August 24, 2009
By Lyn Gardner
There are moments in theatre when space and performance collude so exactly they create something quite extraordinary. So it is with Peggy Shaw’s one-woman show, an enticing and evocative mixture of text and music, the latter played by the Clod Ensemble.
Taking place in the curved lecture theatre of the Medical School, it turns us all into students of Shaw’s body. Hers is one marked by loss and scarred by experience – and she is making an exhibition of herself just as the Elephant Man was made into an exhibition for the 19th-century medical world.
This is an exquisite lesson in anatomy, a journey underneath the skin, a mapping of the human body in which the sites of love and loss are placed under the microscope and analysed with a forensic gaze. It is as if Shaw is taking a scalpel to herself, opening up old wounds, so that the shadows of a lifetime are rendered visible, the joins where heart and bones were broken for all to see.
It’s a beautiful performance, measured, grounded, delicate and yet immensely powerful, of a brave and beguiling piece of writing. This is open-heart surgery of the artistic kind, performed without anaesthetic.
When the American Dream Gets Lost in a Giant Storm
June 19, 2008
By Andy Webster
Lois Weaver is a playful pixie of performance art. When, at the start of “Miss America,” she approaches the front of the audience from the back row, clambering over people and snapping pictures of them, she conveys a delightful sense of mischief. Offering mild recriminations (“You never told me that you don’t really love anyone,” “You never told me that you romanticize poverty”), she is a Park Avenue Kaye Ballard in a tiara, bob wig, black dress and a matronly knee-length coat. Onstage she joins Peggy Shaw — a frequent partner of Ms. Weaver’s since 1981 in the Split Britches troupe — who suggests a Bill Irwin clown in her jaunty loose-fitting suit with pants too short.
Ms. Weaver’s energy animates “Miss America,” a freewheeling attack on American foreign policy, beauty pageants, evening news programs and machismo posturing, generously seasoned with free verse and gay humor. Characters in Ms. Weaver’s arsenal include a weather woman, a fashion photographer and a petulant coquette (“a co-dependent Cassandra”). Ms. Shaw, with her deep voice and wry reticence, covers the more masculine roles. Aiding the two are Jan Bell’s lights and Vivian Stoll’s sound design, both unobtrusively effective.
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Lois Weaver Performs Resistant Femme
By Nicole Eschen
In “Diary of a Domestic Terrorist,” performance artist Lois Weaver fused lecture and performance formats to discuss current political issues and the history of her performance work in an engaging and entertaining presentation. On November 30th, Weaver performed this piece at UCLA in an event sponsored by the Center for Performance Studies, the Center for the Study of Women, and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies Program. She advocated personal and domestic resistance to authority visualized through the metaphor of hanging laundry in public. Laundry, underwear, and nudity became recurrent themes tying together the threatening possibilities for women’s bodies onstage from Janet Jackson’s nipple to strippers in feminist context to Weaver’s work with incarcerated women.
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Here Hand Has a Mind of Its Own
May 26, 2005
By Jason Zinoman
“Dress Suits to Hire,” a lesbian love story told in the overheated style of film noir, begins with a wink at the audience. A femme fatale struggling with her sexuality, Deeluxe (Peggy Shaw), is strangled by her own right hand. Michigan (Lois Weaver) walks toward the body and looks at the hand disapprovingly. “I suppose you know what this will mean,” she says. “She will be unable to do the show.”
The rest of the often clunky play, which Split Britches, a troupe founded by Ms. Shaw, Ms. Weaver and Deborah Margolin, revived to commemorate its 25th anniversary, takes place in something of an erotic dream that veers uncomfortably from postmodern cleverness to earnestly felt romance.
“Dress Suits” first opened in 1987, long before the sight of two women kissing had became a marketing gimmick and “lesbian noir” had received a Hollywood treatment with the cult hit “Bound.” Ms. Weaver and Ms. Shaw, who play their roles with deadpan conviction, are once again the heroines, working in a rental suit store, passing the time trying on clothes and spitting out cool one-liners. “Being a girl is just a phase I’m going through,” Michigan says.
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Butch/Femme Reign Again
May 19, 2005
By Grant Tyler Peterson
The packed audience at La MaMa bubbled with excitement on opening night for Split Britches’ Dress Suits to Hire. New York’s most renowned lesbians from Carmelita Tropicana to Rosie O’Donnell mixed with theater scholars and downtown aficionados to celebrate the return of downtown’s favorite lesbian team, Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver.
Those unfamiliar with Shaw, Weaver, and the work of Split Britches have a rare opportunity to see what cultural scholars have been writing about since the 80’s. Shaw and Weaver are two of the foremothers of American women’s theater and were crucial in the founding of WOW Café. Split Britches rejects theatrical realism, seeing it as a structural prison for female players, especially for lesbians. Instead they employ discursive some might say queer performance tactics, freeing female representations in innovative ways. These include direct address, non-temporal sequencing, cartoonish sets, drag, camp, and, most notably, a postmodern performance of “self.”
The show that best highlights the group’s philosophy of fractured identity is perhaps Belle Reprieve (1991), a campy deconstruction of A Streetcar Named Desire. Stanley Kowalski, played by Shaw, exclaims, “I’m just thousands of parts of other people all mashed into one body. I am not an original person. I take all these pieces, snatch them off the floor before they get swept under the bed, and I manufacture myself.” This self-manufacturing sensibility, especially regarding notions of “butch” and “femme,” is the central theme of Split Britches’s work.
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An Easy Segue From Tender to Tough
October 13, 2003
By Margo Jefferson
A tall performer with big shoulders saunters on in soul man-rockabilly garb with a bohemian twist: deep red iridescent tux jacket, pale green shirt, blue jeans, two-tone shoes in brown and beige. A light-blue Chevy with a touch of turquoise and patches of rust sits on one side of the stage. The car’s bed sits on the other side, and a musician — same jacket, black pants — sets up a drum kit inside it.
We hear phrases of R&B, soul and British pop; ”Rocket 88,” ”Mustang Sally,” ”A Sign of the Times.” The performer strides back and forth, firing out questions and assertions about the violent deaths of Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye; about being young and gullible (”young and dumb” in the words of the soul survivor, Ike Turner); about aging — maturing — as a process of ”getting dirty.” Part of that dirt comes from learning the facts of your own life. The performer used to think she was Scottish. Then her father died, and every relative who showed up for the funeral was Irish.
At first, if you don’t know that Peggy Shaw has been a force in experimental theater since the 1970’s, you might think she is a he. By the end of her new show, ”To My Chagrin,” which opened Thursday at P.S. 122 (First Avenue and Ninth Street) and plays through Oct. 26, Ms. Shaw has turned the question Henry Higgins posed in ”My Fair Lady” on its self-satisfied head. ”Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” the professor asked. Watching Ms. Shaw makes us ask: ”Why can’t white soul men be more like this woman?”
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Different Seasons: Peggy Shaw hit middle age and became a Menopausal Gentleman
May 9, 2002
By Patrick Williams
It’s cliché: Women at midlife suffer hot flashes; men at midlife buy hot cars. So what happens to a 53-year-old butch lesbian grandmother entering menopause? In playwright Peggy Shaw’s case, she puts on a double-breasted suit and suspenders, passes for a 35-year-old man and lets loose the tiger within.
The result is Menopausal Gentleman, Shaw’s Obie-Award-winning solo performance about aging and sexuality–a hilarious and intimate rage against the dying of her eggs.
“They say that women have a certain number of eggs they use up in a lifetime. I did it!” she exclaims with something like triumph.
There’s not much to be said for aging gracefully in Shaw’s monologue, part stand-up routine, part cabaret act. She growls and prowls across the stage, mopping her brow with a handkerchief, slinking into the audience for a lounge-lizardy version of “My Way.”
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One-Act Deal in Delicate Negotiations, in the Music Hall and Home
February 27, 2002
By Lawrence Van Gelder
A couple of talented performers are having fun in a couple of vehicles coupled under the title ”Double Agency,” playing through Sunday as La Mama Experimental Theater Club celebrates its 40th anniversary.
The performers and writers are Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver of the Split Britches Company in fruitful collaboration with two members of the Clod Ensemble, Suzy Willson, who directed the show, and Paul Clark, who provided the music.
The pieces are ”Miss Risqué” and ”It’s a Small House and We’ve Lived in It Always,” and if each component of this 100-minute show seems to run slightly longer than necessary, each maintains an admirable balance between cleverly conceived, spirited entertainment and intelligent insight.
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Salad of the Bad Café; That Championship Season
March 30-April 6, 2000
By Robert David Sullivan
When a recording of “The Stripper” begins and the woman on stage is already nude, what else can she do but dress herself in the most provocative manner imaginable? Lois Weaver rises to the challenge, grinding her hips as she puts on a white suit and transforms herself into . . . Tennessee Williams. It’s one of several arresting moments in Salad of the Bad Café, a cabaret piece written, directed, and performed by Weaver and Peggy Shaw (both of the Obie-winning lesbian theater troupe Split Britches) with artist/poet Stacy Makishi. (Theater Offensive presents the Boston premiere of the show at the Boston Center for the Arts through April 8.)
Salad, the program tells us, was inspired by the works of Williams and Japanese writer Yukio Mishima, along with the Carson McCullers novel Ballad of the Sad Café. To judge from the physical humor in the show, the research must also have included a few trips to the circus. Salad begins with the three performers in oversized men’s suits, each seemingly unable to control some part of her body. They make quick costume changes throughout the evening, and Makishi, in particular, goes through a dizzying array of characters — including a geisha, a cowboy, and Elvis Presley. She also makes one entrance in a vehicle that’s more compact than a clown car.
The slapstick is accompanied by puns, irreverent history lessons, and snatches of song lyrics. “My Aunt Pearl said my Uncle Sam died for Uncle Sam at Pearl Harbor,” Makishi says early in the show. After doing Elvis, she becomes an atomic bomb about to be dropped on Hiroshima and sings “I Can’t Help Falling in Love” (omitting the last two words of the title). “Are you okay? You seem disoriented,” one of the other women asks her. The evening also includes lip-synching to Patsy Cline and Roy Orbison, a recording of Franklin Delano Roosevelt declaring war on Japan, and all three women dancing to the theme from the film The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
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Gentlemen Prefer Menopause
June 23, 1999
By Caroline Palmer
“MENOPAUSE IS ALL of your characteristics blown up a million times,” warns Peggy Shaw one recent Saturday morning, her Boston-accented voice ringing over the phone lines with the sonority of experience. “So when you finally hit it, hopefully you have a lot of great characteristics.” With this candid observation, the writer, director, and performer once described by the New York Times as “an East Village icon of lesbian butchness,” begins to detail the physical and emotional maelstrom euphemized as The Change. It’s not all pretty, but so what? Women spend most of their lives dealing with the fickle ways of hormones, and Shaw, a 55-year-old mother and grandmother, is certainly better than most at explaining–and even embracing–the “beast” lurking within. Her one-woman show Menopausal Gentlemanjust won an Obie Award and will be performed this weekend as part of the Dyke Night festivities at the Walker Art Center.
Menopause, with all of its night sweats and mood swings, was a simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting experience for Shaw. “I had more desire than before,” she explains. “I was wetter than ever. I was smarter. The earth made more sense. There’s a feeling of being an elder.” Of course, a downside presented itself as well. “For the first time in my life, nothing worked for me. I was totally depressed,” Shaw recalls. “I couldn’t do things that were good for me, like exercise or meditation. I started smoking, drinking. When I got really bad, I pulled myself up. It’s just a personal thing about life. You know too much when you get older.”
Shaw performs Menopausal Gentleman in a double-breasted suit, her craggy features and short-cropped hair evoking comparisons to a modern-day Spencer Tracy or a spiffy Sean Penn. “A woman passing as a man looks like a younger man,” she notes during one monologue in the piece. “I keep young by passing, you see. It’s a tradeoff. I sacrifice being a woman for youth.” Shaw discovered this idea last year while performing off-Broadway in Carson Kreitzer’s The Slow Drag, a play inspired by Billy Tipton, the jazz musician and bandleader who spent 40 years passing as a man until death revealed her secret, a discovery that apparently came as a complete surprise to her wives. During the production run, Shaw strapped down her breasts and sported a suit on a daily basis, sliding between the male and female realms with relative ease. When Shaw and collaborator Rebecca Taichman began working on Menopausal Gentleman, the performer’s ventures into the testosterone zone naturally shaped the course of the show.
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A Sendup of ‘Streetcar’
March 11, 1991
By Wilborn Hampton
There comes a moment in the campy drag show “Belle Reprieve,” and it comes quite early, when one is forced to ask, just what is the point of any of the goings-on onstage?
The answer, of course, is that there is no point. “Belle Reprieve,” which has moved from La Mama to One Dream in TriBeCa for an extended run, is billed as a “musical sendup” of Tennessee Williams’s “Streetcar Named Desire.” It is, in fact, a simple cabaret vehicle for Split Britches, the New York lesbian company, and Bloolips, a London gay troupe, to sing a few kitschy and faintly bawdy songs and romp about in several pun-filled scenes that use Williams’s play only as a point of departure.
The musical part of the show consists of parodies of songs ranging from Muddy Waters and the Gershwins to British music-hall ditties, and includes a mildly ribald rendition of the hokeypokey. The dialogue is laced with tired double-entendres about genitalia, male and female, and the humor tends to find its own level. One routine asks the age-old question whether squirting someone with a bottle of seltzer or hitting someone in the face with a pie is funnier, and another concerns extricating foreign matter from someone’s nose.
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February 3, 1988
By Stephen Holden
The most striking quality in ”Dress Suits to Hire,” Holly Hughes’s bawdy farce of sexual identity, is the playwright’s full-tilt fire-engine language. Like Sam Shepard, her most obvious influence, Ms. Hughes, who created ”Dress Suits” in collaboration with its two performers, Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver, invents rhapsodically raunchy stream-of-consciousness riffs to evoke characters whose multiple identities are straining to burst out of their skins.
”Dress Suits to Hire,” at the Interart Theater, portrays a heated game of erotic cat and mouse between Deeluxe (Ms. Shaw) and Michigan (Ms. Weaver), two women who live a cloistered life in a rental-clothing store on Second Avenue. Their relationship is one long game of sexual charades during which the playwright and the performers send up 50 years of film noir vamps, lurid pulp fiction and lingerie ads. In one scene, Deeluxe, a hard-boiled drifter from Ohio, re-creates Rita Hayworth’s performance of ”Put the Blame on Mame” with amusing ineptitude. In another, they tango about their lair to the strains of Perry Como crooning ”Temptation.”
The play opens with an enigmatic Shepardian stroke, as Deeluxe, against her will, strangles herself to death. We never learn whether the killer is an unseen man, the ”masculine” side of her personality, or if the incident is merely the most extreme of the characters’ heated fantasies. The rest of the comedy resurrects a tempestuous relationship in which Ms. Weaver (who resembles the 1940’s Claire Trevor) endeavors to seduce the brassy, untamable Deeluxe, body and soul.
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