BWW Review: The Big F: Elaine Gale Reminds Us That We Are All ONE GOOD EGG
Art has the potential to change people. It can challenge, alter, expand, or validate audience perception. You can, of course, make art about anything--but passive art is forgettable. Engagement with the material is key in conveying your position: active art is opinion in motion. Recently, local performance artist Elaine Gale's one-woman show, One Good Egg, offered Santa Barbara the beginnings of a frank conversation about gender and the female experience. Gale, who is a professor, comedienne, and writer, began this project as a memoir: One Good Egg: A Love Story. As the piece progressed, Gale felt that her complex message about the human imperative to create needed to be expressed physically. Thus, One Good Egg the performance piece was conceived.
Ostensibly One Good Egg is about Gale's journey toward motherhood. Gale is charismatic in her delivery of the material, but vulnerable, and her onstage persona is appealing. Theatrically, this version of One Good Egg is in good shape--and it delivers an important narrative about handling a very specific type of failure: the inability to have a child. Motherhood is a potent topic in a culture facing a fast-evolving definition of gender identity and gender roles, and One Good Egg is an exploration of the female experience in direct relation to fertility and creating a legacy--which prompts the great existential question: what, if any, is our purpose in life?
So let's continue the conversation. Let's talk about "The Big F"--F, as in "Female." What does it mean to "be" female? How do we, as an individual or a society, define the "female" experience? In terms of average biology, which is the traditional basis for categorizing people into a binary gender system: women get pregnant; men do not. If the biological imperative of the species is to procreate, the most important thing a woman can do is get pregnant and have a baby that she raises to a point of self-sufficiency so it, too, can do its role in the perpetuation of the species.
The problem with this type of thinking is that is equates a women's worth with another "Big F": her Fertility. In her show, Gale introduces the term "spent hen", which describes an old chicken that's all out of eggs. Women, too, are born with a finite number of potential eggs for offspring creation, and when those eggs aren't sustainable, "spent hen" becomes a damaging term to describe a woman with fertility challenges. The outlook of average biology is that women, like men, are designed to procreate--so if you can't, or don't, are you somehow less female? Is the inability to pass on your genetic code through procreation the mark of diminished value?
This conversation is part of the reason that fertility is such a charged topic--and a fascinating and complicated aspect of the feminine experience. The (actual) hens that are "spent" don't ponder their relative value or consider their greater purpose once their creative abilities are exhausted; but we, the big-brained, societally oriented species we are, do contemplate this idea of fertility within the grand meaning of life. And this existential predicament adds a juicy layer of emotional complexity to the decision to try to have a child, an act that is already an organic human imperative (can you hear the "biological clock" ticking, yet?).
Culture is changing, which is why this discussion about fertility and the female experience is crucial. Gender equality in child rearing is becoming normalized-this includes all the stay-at-home dads, dual-income households who depend on day-care, or same-sex/non-hetero-normative units raising children--and this is shifting the general "assumed" life map for those who identify as female. Being a woman isn't necessarily defined by the ability to have a child, just as the act of being a parent isn't defined exclusively as a man and woman raising their own physical, genetic offspring.
And yet, for those women who desperately want a child of their own making, infertility and the associated questions about purpose (like, "what is my function as a human if I'm not biologically viable enough to perpetuate my own DNA?") can be a hard pill to swallow. But Gale's story has an uplifting solution in the discovery and subsequent passion of new purpose, born from her fertility struggle: Creating art. Some people leave a biological legacy; some leave a less tangible, though no less important, legacy of ideas. Whether we create or procreate, the human urge is to render and share representation of our experience. Gale, who will be remounting her show in the coming year, reminds us with humor and tenderness that despite failure, we are all "good eggs."
ONE GOOD EGG
by Elaine Gale
COMING THIS SPRING: March 29-31 @ Center Stage Theatre