O Solo Mama Mia Festival, May 2011

StageStruck: Crossing the Line
A mini-festival of works by and about women connects two regions.
Thursday, May 12, 2011
By Chris Rohmann

The title alone should be enough to get your attention: How to Be a Lesbian in 10 Days or Less. It’s one of five short solo works written and performed by women, comprising a two-state festival with an equally whimsical title, O Solo Mama Mia! And for this straight male, Leigh Hendrix’s fondly satirical swipe at lesbian life was the high point of the festival so far.

O Solo, which began in Troy, N.Y., last weekend and concludes this week in Pittsfield, is part of the continuing effort by Berkshire-based WAM Theatre to “bridge the gap between the two regions and share our work and talents,” according to co-founder Kristen van Ginhoven. WAM itself has a two-sided mission—to foreground work by and about women, while giving a portion of ticket sales to organizations that “lift up the lives of women and girls.” Proceeds from the festival will go to the Edna Adan Maternity Hospital in Somaliland to support midwife training.

The framing device for How to Be a Lesbian is one of those high-powered self-improvement seminars aimed at “changing your life”—in this case, your sexual orientation. Our workshop leader is one Butchy McDyke (and I promise you that’s the dumbest gag in the show), whose lessons include tips on framing your own coming-out story as an “engaging narrative that will make you stand out in the cutthroat world of lesbianism.” They are interlaced with a delicious sendup of performance art with a self-absorbed radical feminist, and a couple of stories from Hendrix’s own journey of lesbian self-discovery. The magic of this show comes from its seamless marriage of pointed mockery with personal narrative, delivered by a witty and delightfully surprising performer.

Camilla Schade attempts a similar blend of the satirical with the personal in Performing Therapy, with somewhat less success. Here we’re in a group therapy session full of psychobabble, therapeutic exercises and motivational epigrams (“Failure is an opportunity for people not to expect anything of you anymore”) with excursions into Schade’s very real struggles with depression and disappointment. Both sides of the equation are engaging, but don’t quite mesh.

The third piece I saw in Troy, Paris 1890—Unlaced, a multi-character evocation of La Belle Epoque seen through the eyes of two high-society courtesans, won’t be on the bill in Pittsfield since it had a previous run at Ventfort Hall in Lenox. And I missed My Salvation Has a First Name: A Wienermobile Journey, Robin Gelfenbien’s account of her adventures behind the wheel of the Oscar Mayer promotional vehicle.

That one is joined in Pittsfield by Stories from Hell and High Water, which examines the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in a devastated New Orleans neighborhood. Performed by Richarda Abrams, it’s a one-act version of Yvette Jamuna Sirker’s full-length play, focusing on a Latina schoolteacher and six of her neighbors.

This week’s shows, playing in a rotating repertory, are a collaboration with Pittsfield’s Storefront Artists Project, where they accompany an exhibit by 11 visual artists celebrating empowerment and opportunity for women.

O Solo Mama Mia!: May 12-15, Storefront Artists Gallery, 31 South St., Pittsfield. Visit www.wamtheatre.com for schedule and tickets.