Traditionally, a peepshow is a one-way affair—someone performs and someone (or someones) else observe, usually without being seen themselves. But I knew walking into dog & pony dc’s contribution to the 2018 Women’s Voices Theater Festival, given the company’s emphasis on audience integration, that this would be no passive viewing experience. And indeed, Peepshow is a creative, chaotic, and immersive experience that unfortunately offers a slightly muddled message.
Conceived and developed by Rachel Grossman, Tosin Olufolabi, and Ivania Stack and directed by Grossman, Peepshow begins with a somewhat subdued pre-show spectacle in the lower, lower lobby of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. After about 10 minutes, the audience is welcomed into Woolly’s rehearsal room by Susan (Carol Spring), who hurries to get the audience chairs and continues to fold laundry and perform other chores as the rest of the cast is engaged in performing.
There’s an actual peepshow featuring four women (Elaine Yuko Qualter, Amelia Hensley, Sandra Mae Frank, and Natasha Gallop) dressed like the cast of Moulin Rouge performing “She Had It Coming,” a variation on the Chicago classic that includes a running list of the famous and powerful men exposed by the #MeToo movement. The audience also is treated to a silent seaside pantomime complete with an edible component, a beauty pageant between cardboard-cutout stereotypes of femininity and one real woman (both featuring Ouida Maedel), and a Feminist Fightclub Federation wrestling match between the different waves of feminism (a Suffragette, Housewife, Riot Grrrl, Sista Grrrl, and Basic Becky).
None of this would work without the total commitment of the cast (which is rounded out by Kerry McGee and Tosin Olufolabi), and that’s where Peepshow really shines—there was nothing timid or forced about these performances, and the audience is invited to participate in a natural, non-threatening manner. This may be reflective of the fact the Peepshow was put together by a totally non-male-identifying creative team, and the cast is comprised of both deaf and hearing actors to make it completely accessible.
All of this is to say that I loved the way the show was made and executed, but I left wondering what exactly I should be walking away with. While the different vignettes cover a wide range of topics and display lots of innovation, the themes struck me as surface-level and contradictory at times.
The peepshow portion of the evening didn’t go much deeper than pointing out that cats are called “she” and dogs are called “he,” and the wrestling match ends with a call for unity, but doesn’t address the way that Sista Grrrl and Basic Becky are treated very differently by non-intersectional feminism. The emphasis on female genitalia seems to exclude trans and certain non-binary individuals, while the final scene, which features a dance party and a makeover, left me wondering as to what it was saying about people who identify as feminist, but also take pleasure in makeup and shoes and jewelry.
closes February 25, 2018
Details and tickets
There’s only so much you can fit into an 80-minute show—even one as ambitious and diverse as Peepshow—and this is not to say that one performance can ever hope to tackle all the varied aspects of gender inequality in our society. Ultimately, while the piece may have benefited from a narrowing of its scope and focus, there’s plenty to be enjoyed by adventurous and open-minded audience members.
Peepshow. Conceived and developed by Rachel Grossman, Tosin Olufolabi, and Ivania Stack. Directed by Rachel Grossman. Devised by Claudia Brownlee, Jordana Fraider, Sandra Mae Frank, Natasha Gallop, Kala Granger, Rachel Grossman, Amelia Hensley, Ouida Maedel, Kerry McGee, Tosin Olufolabi, Elaine Yuko Qualter, Lorraine Ressegger-Slone, Carol Spring, Ivania Stack, and Annie Wiegand. Featuring: Sandra Mae Frank, Natasha Gallop, Amelia Hensley, Ouida Maedel, Kerry McGee, Tosin Olufolabi, Elaine Yuko Qualter, and Carol Spring. Choreographer: Lorraine Ressegger-Slone. Set and lighting designer: Annie Wiegand. Costume designer: Claudia Brownlee. Sound designer: Tosin Olufolabi. Dramaturg and assistant director: Jordana Fraider. Production and stage management: Emilie Moore, Trent Harper, and Kala Granger. ASL translation: Sandra Mae Frank and Amelia Hensley. Performance interpreters: History Estil-Varner and Mary Beth Morgan. Produced by dog & pony dc. Reviewed by John Bavoso.