More than 200 years ago, the poet Wordsworth observed that “getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.” Today, “getting and spending” remains a fixation, and we are inundated in ways that Wordsworth could never have imagined.
We are drowning in stuff.
The average home in America has 300,000 things in it. That’s the “average” home. Our hoarders – and Time magazine estimates that there are between 6 and 15 million obsessive accumulators of things in America – obviously have much, much more. And what treasures we can’t fit into our houses, we increasingly offload into storage units. Between 1995 and 2007, self-storage facilities increased by 90 percent.
As comedian George Carlin once quipped, all this is in the eye of the beholder: “Have you ever noticed that their stuff is shit and your shit is stuff?” Hoarders lose the ability to distinguish between shit and stuff. But all of us are devoted to objects that other people consider entirely disposable.
Our culture is obsessed with stuff as well as our obsession with stuff. Just consider all the TV shows that are focused on nothing but: Pawn Stars, Hardcore Pawn, Storage Wars, Storage Hunters, Hoarders, Buried Alive. Shows like Antiques Roadshow are the modern-day equivalent of alchemy: experts turn other people’s shit into really valuable stuff right before our eyes, tantalizing us with the idea that the painting we found in our grandmother’s attic really is worth something.
My new one-man show Stuff is about all this stuff.
It’s also about my mother, and all the stuff that she left behind – not only her possessions but also her secrets. That’s what sometimes happens when parents pass away. They leave behind letters, diaries, and pictures that reveal a counter-history of their lives – and by extension, our lives as well.
In my play, I tell lots of stories about stuff. There’s my aunt, a children’s book author, who watches her entire art collection disappear beneath a wrecking ball. There’s my friend Geoff, who goes in search of the bits and pieces of the trains of his youth. There’s my distant cousin Itzik Feffer, a Soviet poet imprisoned by Stalin for being too candid about stuff.
And, of course, there was my mother, who never liked to throw out any food, who saved every sentimental scrap of paper, and who decided late in life to write short stories based on those memories. She left behind her diaries, the love letters my father sent her during World War II, and a trail of breadcrumbs that led back to the central secrets of her life.
In the course of 18 short scenes, in which I play all of these characters as well as myself at various stages in my life, I follow these breadcrumbs and uncover one secret after another until, in a cookie tin of stuff, I discover the very last one.
Directed by Natalia Gleason, Stuff is my seventh Fringe production in seven years. My previous shows – Krapp’s Last Power Point, Edible Rex, The Bird, The Pundit, The Politician, and Interrogation –all played to packed houses and garnered positive reviews. My most recent play, Before/After, debuted in May 2015 in the European Month of Culture sponsored in DC by the European Union.
The Washington Post said that The Pundit “deflates its target with a sharp satiric pin,” DC Theatre Scene called The Bird “a treasure,” and the Washington City Paper wrote that “Feffer is a brilliant writer and performer” in its review of Edible Rex. Last year, DC Metro Theatre Arts lauded Interrogation as “a deftly told dark comedy about a serious and timely subject that immerses the audience completely in its creative story.” The previous year, DC Broadway World praised The Politician as “a brilliant mix of theater and politics.”
Stuff will debut in the Capital Fringe Festival and will also appear in September in the United Solo festival in New York.
July 9 — Aug 2
1358-60 Florida Ave. NE
Washington, DC 20002
and other locations
Details and Tickets
Eastman Studio Theatre at Gallaudet University
800 Florida Ave., NE
5 shows only!
July 9 @ 8 pm
July 12 @ 2:30 pm
July 15 @ 6 pm
July 22 @ 6 pm
July 25 @ 2:15 pm
All performances are 90 minutes
and are accessible for deaf audiences.