She was a medical marvel in an age where such marvels were not entirely uncommon. Forced into sideshows or the superficially more genteel lecture circuit, these Victorian-era human wonders were often exploited by their handlers and employers, but in an age where there were already limited possibilities for earning one’s keep, the ability to transform a physical disability into a money-making attribute was at least a more attractive proposition than starving.
For Julia Pastrana, the so-called “Nondescript,” her unusual condition — a form of hypertrichosis which covered her body in thick black hair and deformed her face — touring the world was better than staying in her home state of Sinaloa, Mexico, where she was a marginalized house servant. By all accounts, many of which are recited verbatim onstage in May van Oskan’s The Ape Woman, which played at the EXIT Theatre last weekend, she was an intellectually curious woman who spoke three languages, had a beautiful singing voice and a gracious manner, and even believed in romantic love, even though to outsiders her own marriage had the appearance of an exploitative measure on the part of her husband, Theodore Lent, who also happened to be her “manager”.
Taking the road less traveled with the Independent Eye
In a cozy living room in Cole Valley, a small but attentive oddience gathers to watch a trio of short theatrical vignettes performed by maverick theater-makers the Independent Eye.
Entitled Gifts, the three pieces have been performed over the years in previous incarnations, but never together, and the subtle commonalities that bind them are elegant and startling in equal measure. Focused primarily on human relationships, the complexity of desire, and the precarious yet universal nature of a journey into the unknown, Gifts follows three couples on their respective paths as they encounter all the unexpected complications and mysterious rewards that life throws at them along the way.
For Conrad Bishop and Elizabeth Fuller, who have been both the creative partnership behind the Independent Eye and also life partners for over 50 years, revisiting these pieces with a deepened perspective honed by the implications of entering their final decades has been a process as revelatory to them as when they were created the first time.
“Everything resonates differently,” points out Fuller, with a gracious smile. Read more »
We’re already halfway through Pride Month, but there’s no end in sight for the mad whirl of activities you could be availing yourself of. Proud or not, there’s no excuse for a blank social calendar at this time of year. Hate the club scene? Don’t overlook the très gay possibilities of a night in the theatre (Truman Capote wouldn’t). For starters, you might check out one of the ongoing shows over at the venerable New Conservatory Theatre Center, or one by queer theatre stalwarts Theatre Rhinoceros, but for campier fun, The Performant has a few favorites of her own to recommend (being gay not required).
Reminiscent of Mission parlor-art space The Red Poppy Art House, Subterranean Arthouse in Berkeley, upon entrance, is a lot like entering the living room of an artsy friend. Comfortably mismatched chairs and a few scattered cushions, a kitchenette behind the stage curtains, inviting visitors to endless cups of tea, hardwood floors gleaming below a strand of primitive lighting instruments.
Just four years old as a venue, the Arthouse nonetheless gives off the vibe of a place that’s been around forever, lurking just below the radar, if not actually under the ground (unlike La Val’s Subterranean, it’s actually located at street level). In short, it’s about time I got around to attending an event there.
The piece, “Infinite Closeness” is a solo offering of Hungarian performer Csaba Hernadi, an entirely mimed evocation of the poetess Mari Lukacs, whose life spanned the horrors of the Holocaust, the communist regime, and the usual traumas and blessings of a life lived for poetry.
While there’s plenty of art created around post-apocalyptic themes, what frequently characterizes it is a sense of bleakness, struggle, and violence. Only rarely does the sheer resilience of the creative spirit get recognized, let alone celebrated by our visionary futurists.Read more »
Although the ongoing eviction saga (and upcomng relocation!) of Adobe Books, “the living room” of the Mission, from its 16th Street digs dredges up memories of all the neighborhood bookstores that have closed/moved in recent years, it’s worth being reminded that the book trade has only ever had a limited impact on the persistence of the written (and spoken) word, particularly where poetry is concerned.
In fact, the more tenuous the economic climate, the more tenacious poetry becomes, pushing itself like a hungry weed through the unavoidable cracks left in the superficially smooth pavement of gentrification. That poets are themselves accustomed to staying hungry yet artistically fruitful is a condition immortalized in the famous Robert Graves quip that “there’s no money in poetry, but there’s no poetry in money, either.”
THEATER Tom Stoppard is not a playwright who shies away from topics of unusual size. While other writers might confine themselves more narrowly with plumbing the emotional depths of their protagonists, Stoppard further concerns himself with the very workings of the universe they live in, and the machinery of history and the evolution of thought that informs their relationship to it.Read more »
Spring is in the air, and so is DIVAfest, the EXIT Theatre’s annual celebration of female artists and theater-makers. Founded in 2002 by Christina Augello to give female creators a secure space to showcase their craft, DIVAfest has hosted an estimated 500 participants have come through in the last 11 years, from visual artists (Sophie Kadow, Kathy Jo Lafreniere, Michelle Talgarow) to playwrights (Kerry Reid, Lee Kiszonas, Margery Fairchild) to music-makers (Beth Wilmurt, Shannon Day, Carrie Baum Love), to burlesque dancers (Odessa Lil, Red Velvet, If-N-Whendy). This year, the fest hits the stage May 9-June 2. Read more »
LIT If the intrinsic value of an ephemeral experience is its very impermanence, then attempting to capture it for posterity is an exercise fraught with peril. No sanitized textbook description of such chaos-driven movements as Dada, Situationism, and Fluxus could ever hope to capture the raw vibrancy of being a part of the action, and the true value of such movements has really never been in spectating, but from the transformation experienced by the participants while pushing their personal boundaries.Read more »
Rocky Horror turns 40, still crazy after all these years.
Who doesn’t have fond memories of their first Rocky Horror Picture Show experience? Ok, mine are mixed since the first time I saw it was on an old black-and-white television with my father, avoiding eye contact and trying not to laugh too hard at the ribald bits. It wasn’t until I finally saw it on the big screen in the company of peers -- armed with rice, noisemakers, and snarky quips -- that the full potential of its subversive pleasures revealed themselves more fully.
Part of the fun of repeated viewings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show is emulating the character you most want to be, and for a curly-haired, goth-inclined teenager, the clear choice was Magenta, whose stone-faced cool and extraterrestrial sensuality were so beyond the straitjacket of smalltown teenhood, that to walk an evening in her spike-heeled shoes was akin to a declaration of, well, something. Call it freedom. Peaches Christ does.