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BWW Review: Diana Oh's {MY LINGERIE PLAY}, Glitter, Soap Bubbles, Anger, Art and Activism

To describe Diana Oh's newest performance art installation as the pep rally that precedes the dismantling of the patriarchy is by no means a knock on her vibrantly raucous mixture of glitter, soap bubbles, anger, art and activism. It's just that, unlike many of her previous ventures, she's unlikely to encounter negative audience vibes, or actual physical harassment, in the defiantly progressive confines of the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.

BWW Review:  Diana Oh's {MY LINGERIE PLAY}, Glitter, Soap Bubbles, Anger, Art and Activism
Diana Oh (Photo: Jeremy Daniel)

{MY LINGERIE PLAY} 2017: THE CONCERT AND CALL TO ARMS!!!!!!!!! THE FINAL INSTALLATION, co-directed by Oh and Orion Stephanie Johnstone, is a new version her bio-rock concert first performed in 2014, the year Oh began appearing in a series of public art installations encouraging gender and racial parity by challenging the public's view of rape culture, whitewashing and the multitude of inequities ingrained into American culture.

She's quick to point out, however, that compared with much of the world, we don't have it quite as bad.

"Here, women are shunned for expressing their sexuality. Somewhere else in the world women are shunned for reading a book or driving a car. Here, I experience street harassment walking to the E train. Somewhere else, women are stolen off the streets and become kidnapped child brides or have acid thrown at them because they're too pretty. What we experience here in the States is a micro-percentage of the violence and degradation that women face globally."

New Yorkers (and certainly tourists) have mostly come across Oh's previous installations by chance. She's been seen standing on a soap box in Times Square, dressed in her lingerie, holding up brown paper bags on which she's written "I'm standing here in my lingerie because I'm a woman who enjoys wearing lingerie but does not enjoy being catcalled, being trafficked, being sold, being owned, being told to be unhealthily thin, being told to age unnaturally..." (Visit www.mylingerieplay.com for the full text.)

She has stood in front of the Brooklyn Museum, in lingerie, singing "My Freedom," a song she wrote in response to a nearby incident where she was catcalled and followed at 2am.

In another Times Square installation, she and a group of models simulated lying unconscious on the ground, with another paper bag proclaiming "Even If You Found Me Like This You Still Can't Rape Me."

And while her work has drawn admiration and has stimulated discussion from passers-by, there has also been verbal abuse and physical assaults.

As audience members walk up the theater's stairs to be seated for her current show, paper bags from past installments are on display, bearing messages like "The World Bends Over Backwards to Make Excuses for (white) Male Violence."

They're greeted by the sight of Oh - standing on her soap box and in her lingerie, naturally - holding a bag that asks, "Why do you create a safer and more courageous world for us?" Markers and bags are placed on stage for visitors to write their answers and post their creations somewhere in the house. The exercise helps promote a friendly social environment that encourages dialogue, a major point of the piece.

Backed by band members Rocky Vega (bass), Matt Park (guitar) and music director Ryan McCurdy (drums), Oh plays guitar and sings a collection of hard rock numbers on subjects like being a teenager getting in touch with her sexual freedom by listening to punk rock on the radio and the need to be a part of a supportive community where there'll always be someone to lift you up.

But it's between the music segments where {MY LINGERIE PLAY} truly gets kicking. Oh's coming of age recollections explain how her lifelong relationship with lingerie began when, growing up poor in Los Angeles, she shoplifted a red lace bra (which she wears while telling the story) to turn on a high school boyfriend.

BWW Review:  Diana Oh's {MY LINGERIE PLAY}, Glitter, Soap Bubbles, Anger, Art and Activism
Matt Park, Diana Oh, Ryan McCurdy and Rocky Vega
(Photo: Jeremy Daniel)

At all-women Smith College, she was amazed to discover a non-judgmental campus community where lingerie and other barely-clothed options could be worn publicly without fear of verbal or physical assault. After describing a campus ritual of head-shaving, she asks for an audience volunteer whose head she can shave with an electric razor. The young fellow who came up on stage the evening this reviewer attended seemed very happy with the result.

Another moment with an audience volunteer is triggered when she asks if anyone would like to make out with her. This prompts her quick workshop on the sexiness of asking for and receiving consent. Her own demonstration clarifies the difference between "enthusiastic consent" and someone who feels uncomfortable just giving in to avoid confrontation.

Beneath all the liberating fun and entertainment, however, is the justified anger at patriarchal conventions. This bubbles up to the surface in her self-described rant listing examples of systemic racism and sexism that make everyday life dangerous in ways that straight white cisgender men (the majority of our elected leaders) have never experienced.

"The Gender Binary! Why was I never exposed to trans bodies at younger age? Why was I not taught until college? That's the patriarchy. Always being told what to do with our bodies. That's the patriarchy. Being followed home at 2 in the morning, that's the patriarchy. Being called a 'stupid bitch' in the street, that's the patriarchy. 'No means yes. Yes means anal.' And again 'No means yes. Yes means anal.' They chanted that about 50 more times at Yale in 2014. That's the patriarchy. Adam and Eve and that stupid fucking snake. That's the patriarchy. No time to talk about emotions. All-white casts, All white critics. That's the patriarchy. That's the patriarchy."

In the past two years Americans have collectively witnessed the power of charismatic public speakers who, for better or worse, can inspire people to action. If there's a prevailing intention immersed in Diana Oh's performance, it's the need for every individual to take on the responsibility of contributing to the healing of society's wounds.

Though {MY LINGERIE PLAY} 2017: THE CONCERT AND CALL TO ARMS!!!!!!!!! THE FINAL INSTALLATION is predominantly autobiographical, Oh makes it clear that the evening's not about her. It's about us.


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From This Author Michael Dale