BWW Review: Split Britches Invites Audience Members To Join Their Council of Elders in UNEXPLODED ORDNANCES (UXO)

As primary members of the ground-breaking theatre troupe Split Britches - which they founded with former member Deb Margolin in 1980 - Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver have been challenging both gender norms and theatrical norms for nearly four decades, ranking them among the respected elders of America's performance art movement.

BWW Review:  Split Britches Invites Audience Members To Join Their Council of Elders in UNEXPLODED ORDNANCES (UXO)
Lois Weaver (Photo: Matt Delbrid)

So it's appropriate that their new piece playing at La MaMa E.T.C. as part of this year's Under The Radar Festival, UNEXPLODED ORDNANCES (UXO), relies heavily on voluntary audience participation from the elders within each audience.

Though the piece, co-authored by Shaw, Weaver and Hannah Maxwell, takes a stylistic cue from Stanley Kubrick's 1964 cold war satire, "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb," this is a show that embraces compassion, rather than to simply mock warmongering.

The title refers to the existence of countless undetonated explosives, remnants of wars and conflicts past, that may retain their potential to go off at any moment. This includes, as the text explains, Civil War ammunition buried in New York Harbor.

In the interpretive hands of Split Britches, these weapons of war can come to represent unexplored human potential or perhaps the bottled-up aggression of the past that can explode in our faces at any moment.

BWW Review:  Split Britches Invites Audience Members To Join Their Council of Elders in UNEXPLODED ORDNANCES (UXO)
Peggy Shaw (Photo: Matt Delbrid)

Playing a bombastically macho general, Shaw is stationed standing at a console for most of the piece. When she learns early on that a nuclear bomb is on its way, set to hit in one hour, she instructs all audience members to set their cell phone alarms for 59 minutes, and each of the three seating sections is assigned a line to say when they go off.

As Madame President, Weaver takes in the general's antics with wry humor. She is more concerned with assembling a Council of Elders to discuss humanity's current dangers.

Questions like "Who was alive during World War II?" and "Who remembers the Cuban Missile Crisis?" help determine who are the senior members of each performance's gathering and a dozen of them are invited to join Weaver center stage at a configuration of tables. In the 60s this would be regarded as a War Room. Today we call it the Situation Room.

As an ice-breaker, everyone is asked to say their name and reveal any fact they'd like about themselves. (A former Olympic sprinter was on the council the evening this reviewer attended.) Questions about our concerns and desires are also asked in a non-judgmental way that puts nobody on the spot.

As this is a gathering of people attending a political theatre piece in Manhattan's Lower East Side, it can be expected that many of the responses will express dissatisfaction with the current president's administration, but by its very nature, the content of UNEXPLODED ORDNANCES (UXO) will significantly alter every time its performed.

What Shaw, Weaver and Maxwell have cleverly devised is a theatre piece that introduces a subject, and then explores it through the experiences of those in attendance who have experienced life the most, emphasizing the simple, but often forgotten method of problem-solving through respectful interactive communication.

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From This Author Michael Dale

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