BWW Review: ADRIENNE TRUSCOTT'S (STILL) ASKING FOR IT Takes Risks at Joe's Pub
Art requires risk. Actually, art requires more risk than life, because it is easy enough to wake up each day, go to work for a peaceful 9 or 10 hours with your head down, go home, have dinner, watch some Netlix and go to bed without ever taking a risk. When you make art, though, you have to be willing to go out on that limb, open that vein, push that envelope, step out of that comfort zone, thus creating a higher rate of return in the reward from the risk.
In her new show (Still) Asking For It, Adrienne Truscott has taken a risk. The risk is not in creating a show centered around rape - after all, this is a follow up to her 2013 show Asking For It - she's already explored these waters. The risk is not in having five women perform naked from the waist down - Ms. Truscott is frequently in states of undress during her shows and, frankly, an audience member at a burlesque can expect to see more flesh than at (Still) Asking For It (albeit less hirsute flesh). The risk is not in including a trans woman still living in her birth body in this nude-from-the-waist-down performance piece - in today's society the inclusion of transgender people should be the norm. None of the aspects of (Still) Asking For It that one might THINK are going to shock people factor into the risk Adrienne Truscott has taken with her new show.
The risk taken by bringing this show to Joe's Pub is that it isn't ready to be seen yet.
When Ms. Truscott's ground-breaking (according to her website bio) show Asking For It premiered in 2013 it might well have been perfection. Not having seen it, this writer can only comment on the new, updated incarnation, the full title of which is: (Still) Asking For It (A Stand Up Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy And Little Else!). Examining the title, it is clear that this performance is meant to be stand up comedy. During the performance the phrases "stand up" and "stand up comedy" are repeatedly used. The only thing is that this is not stand up comedy. It's performance art, it's protest, it's even a TED Talk, but it isn't stand up comedy. Much of the time, it isn't even funny. Oh, there are laughs, and some good ones; but most of the time the prosaic format of the 70 minute show is biting, satirical, political, angry, ironic and informative. It isn't stand up comedy, though. Maybe (Still) Asking For It doesn't know what it is or wants to be and that's why so many people at the show last night erred on the side of not laughing.
They were listening, though.
Listening to Adrienne Truscott and her colleagues talk about rape is fascinating. Each woman has a different style and a different story, though the writing credit for the evening goes, solely, to Truscott. One assumes that these are actresses recounting the tales penned for them by the show creator, not women sharing their own life experiences, and it doesn't matter if these women are sharing their own stories because rape culture is universal. Every woman has been discriminated against, judged, threatened, assaulted in one way or another, and their stories need to be told, and a spotlight put on those people doing the discriminating, judging, threatening and assaulting. This is why one of the most effective dialogues during the evening is the ongoing conversation about the famous men committing the crimes. The set is decorated with framed photos of Andrew Dice Clay, Seth McFarlane, Daman Wayans, Daniel Tosh, Kurt Metzger, Jimmy Carr, Doug Stanhope and several others, all men who famously made rape jokes in their comedy acts. The women on the stage discuss, at length, the propensity for this humor, making more uncomfortable and appalled the attentive audience who, at one time, loved these men. A slide show presents the faces of many men, stand up comics, politicians, world leaders, all of whom have been accused of some form of sexual harassment, from Louis CK to Brock Turner, the swimmer rapist. Woody Allen. Matt Lauer. Donald Trump. Roman Polanski. Bill Cosby has a special framed photo in a special part of the stage because this one-time childhood hero of every person is now the most famous rapist of all time. This deliciously entertaining, biting, informative and accurate dialogue between the performers and the audience is important conversation, and it is a conversation that must be had.
But it isn't comedy. And it isn't cabaret.
(Still) Asking For It is performance art and it belongs in a performance art space. When it gets to a performance art space I would love to recommend that everyone see it - especially if Ms. Truscott and her director, Ellie Heyman, will sit down and do some work on the script. They are trying their level best to make this show into an enjoyable evening out where people can sit down and have a drink and a meal and watch some comedy, but they are being met with obstacles at several turns. An ongoing bit in which the actresses spend the entire show chugging beer and whisky (one hopes it is fake) is cumbersome and slows the action of the show, as the women stop their dialogue to take a swig, disturbing the natural flow of the conversation. It is clear that this is meant to represent the men who drink too much and commit rape - it just doesn't work. The women traverse the length of the stage and the club, clomping up and down stairs at the front and back of the stage, walking through the audience, presumably to make them uncomfortable by the presence of pubic hair so close to their pasta and Pellegrino, but the fact is that the only people who look uncomfortable by all this stomping around are the actresses, wrestling with masking blacks they have to pass through to get onstage, and audience chairs shoved back to back, preventing them from passing by.
The actresses themselves are a talented bunch with Jenn Kidwell emerging as the stand-up among them, Shamika Cotton a performer destined for the story telling community, Mari Moriarty representing the theater sect and Ms. Truscott being more of a burlesque social commentator than stand-up comedienne. A guest appearance from an unnamed performer seated with the audience went off the rails when an unfunny bit with a banana only became amusing after the peel she threw into the air landed in the light grid, creating the biggest laugh of the night.
As far as the nudity goes, it could stay or it go. When the writing is good, the audience is with them. One well scripted segment best referred to as "Imagine" is like some epic rape themed rap slam in which the actresses take turns making their points about rape with remarkable eloquence, however a lot of the words get lost in Truscott's faux intoxicated verbality, or distracted from by Ms. Moriarty's penis, flopping around as she jumps up and down. Though there is some point that Truscott et al are trying to make by exposing their genitalia, the point is not clear. Is the intent to desensitize the audience? Is the intent to shock? Is it a gimmick designed for the sale of tickets? Because being at a show with full frontal nudity should not shock anyone in 2019, though it does raise questions about why the health department hasn't stopped by to talk about food service and genitalia, or why the police haven't visited The Public with an S.O.B. citation - but few people are either shocked or desensitized by the sight of a penis or a vagina -- even the two young girls this writer spotted at the show last night seemed unphased by the visual or vocal shocks on display for them. So, with good writing to make the desired point, why is the nudity a part of the proceedings, when there is a chance that it might distract the audience from the writing?
Because the writing isn't good enough. Yet. Some of it is - but not all of it. That might be why Ms. Truscott muddles the evening with all the beer chugging, bits with sunglasses, wigs, layers of denim and lingerie that make the evening , at best, incohesive and, at worst, incomprehensible. BUT (and this is a big but) if the talented Truscott and her collaborator, Heyman, will take (Still) Asking For It back to the drawing board for some reexamination, restructuring and rewriting, this writer is thoroughly convinced they can revamp and resituate it in a room where it can flourish and nourish and have the artistic, risk-filled life it deserves.
And it does deserve one.