Includes two new shows: "Miss Risqué" & "It's A Small House and We've Lived in it Always"

written by: Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver
directed by: Suzy Willson
original music by: Paul Clark
lighting by: Aideen Malone
additional direction & choreography by: Stormy Brandenberger
sets by: Annabel Lee
costumes by: Susan Young & Sarah Blenkinsop

production schedule:
February 14 - March 3, 2002
Thursday - Sunday 7:30pm
Sunday at 2:30pm
The Annex Theatre
New York Times Review
February 27, 2002

"Double Agency," the newest work by Split Britches' Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver, includes two shows: "Miss Risqué" and "It's A Small House and We've Lived in It Always." It is the first collaboration between Split Britches and the renowned English troupe, The Clod Ensemble. The evening is directed by Suzy Willson and scored with original music by Paul Clark. It is the NY premiere of a work which originally premiered this winter at The Purcell Room on South Bank, London. "Miss Risqué" is written by Shaw and Weaver. Billed as "a story of secrets and showgirls," it is set in a fin de siecle Paris Music Hall. Lois Weaver plays a showgirl whose character is a cross between Mata Hari and Mistinguett. The former, we all know, was the famous spy of World War I; the latter was the sensational, seductive 1920s musical star who ruled the stages of the "City of Women," insured her legs for a million dollars, and launched the career of her partner, Maurice Chevalier (but faded away with the advent of cinema). Peggy Shaw plays a mustachioed suitor who ostensibly aspires to be the glamorous star's dance partner, and whose masculine drag evinces a skill for deception that rivals her alluring counterpart's. The piece is a lyrical lesbian tarantella that explores the power of femininity, visibility, invisibility and deception. Peggy Shaw speculates that it is all about "what it is about femininity that makes it dangerous." Lois Weaver calls it a piece on "resistant femininity," or how a woman can have sexual power (i.e., indulge in the trappings of femininity and exercise sterotypical feminine wiles) without becoming objectified by it. Reviewing the production London, Dorothy Max Prior (Total Theatre) wrote, "As the audience arrives, the glorious Lois Weaver is in place, taking up most of the stage; her snow white dress flowing over tiered platforms, a head-dress adding to the height so that she presides over the audience, a larger than life Liberty Belle. Enter Peggy Shaw, private Dick and stage-door Johnny, on a journey from awe-struck Peeping Tom to adoring dance partner. 'Miss Risqué' both subverts and celebrates the vaudeville tradition. The show is a feast of female drag--the powdered and permed showgirl and her be-suited and mustachioed beau both artificial constructs, yet both true and powerful representations of aspects of womanhood." The work was originally commissioned by the Nuffield Theatre in Lancaster, England through an Arts Council of England Lottery Grant. (In Blighty, lottery proceeds are used to finance cultural projects.) "It's A Small House and We've Lived in It Always" is an unspoken, physical piece with three songs in the style of American Blues. Shaw and Weaver play a couple enduring a relationship of twenty years, still demanding attention from each other and negotiating space. While appearing to be about women in love, it is actually universal, according to its creators. "Territory is biological," says Weaver, explaining that the two women wouldn't have to be lovers to have the same situation; they could actually be mother and daughter. Dorothy Max Prior wrote in Total Theatre, "'It's a Small House and We've Lived in it Always' is...a 'play' in word, song and movement. Two lonesome lovers act out the girl-boy (or girl-girl) tease and truculence of a married life. Lois Weaver maps the feminine, Peggy Shaw pulls off an extraordinary portrait of 'masculinity'--her 'butch' is not a stereotypical machismo but the nervy, exasperated, pleading masculinity of the 'boy-man' who tries to do what his woman wants but so often gets it wrong. Having worked together for over twenty years, theirs is a stage partnership of a rare calibre--together they spark and fizz. Split Britches are political in their very existence, but eschew agit-prop to create theatre that is multi-faceted, funny and beautiful." The piece was originally commissioned by Purcell Room, Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank (an institution comparable to our Lincoln Center for London). Shaw and Weaver glow when speaking of their collaboration with Suzy Willson, a Lecoq-trained director, and Paul Clark, a contemporary classical composer, who are the mainstays of The Clod Ensemble. Creatively, this project gave them the opportunity to integrate movement and visuals in a "precise" performance style that differed from the broad, vaudevillian genre of Split Britches' work to-date. Under the staging of Suzy Willson and with the score of composer Paul Clark, there has emerged a different, more precise tone and a simple aesthetic line. Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver, together with Deb Margolin (all veterans of Hot Peaches and Spiderwoman Theater), co-founded Split Britches in 1981 at NYC's WOW Cafe (an outgrowth of the WOW International Theater Festivals there of 1980 and 1981). The company received an Obie in 1986 for sustained excellence. Peggy Shaw has received Obie Awards for performance in 1987 for "Dress Suits for Hire" and in 1999 for "Menopausal Gentleman." Shaw and Weaver have become known for "a long line of smart, thrillingly well-executed performance pieces" (Katherine Dieckmann, Village Voice) and "tough intellectual and verbal content (John Hammond, The Native). They won two more Obies for ensemble acting in La MaMa's "Belle Reprieve" (1991), a collaboration with Bloolips that was a reversed-gender version of "Streetcar Named Desire." They have also appeared in The Club at LaMaMa in "Lesbians Who Kill" (1993), a satirical work on violent fantasies, "Lust and Comfort" (1995), a play set in London in the '50s which addressed sterility and complacency in long-term relationships and the urge to reinvent desire, and "Salad of the Bad Cafe" (2000), a collaboration with performance artist Stacy Makishi that was inspired by Carson McCullers' novel "Ballad of the Sad Cafe" and the lives of Tennessee Williams and Yukio Mishima. Shaw and Weaver have also introduced solo, largely autobiographical shows at La MaMa: Shaw's "You're Just Like My Father" (1994) was an autobiographical work on growing up Butch in the 1950s. Weaver's "Faith and Dancing: mapping femininity and other natural disasters" (1997) was a work about growing up a femme dyke in Baptist Virginia.

February 27, 2002
by Lawrence Van Gelder

One-Acts Deal in Delicate Negotiations, in the Music Hall and Home
A couple of talented performers are having fun in a couple of vehicles coupled under the title "Double Agency," playing through Sunday as La Mama Experimental Theater Club celebrates its 40th anniversary.The performers and writers are Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver of the Split Britches Company in fruitful collaboration with two members of the Clod Ensemble, Suzy Willson, who directed the show, and Paul Clark, who provided the music.The pieces are "Miss Risqué" and "It's a Small House and We've Lived in It Always," and if each component of this 100-minute show seems to run slightly longer than necessary, each maintains an admirable balance between cleverly conceived, spirited entertainment and intelligent insight."Miss Riqué" casts Ms. Weaver as a voluptuous blond French music hall star in the years leading up to World War II. Part Mata Hari, part diva, she is under investigation by a counterintelligence agent played by the short-haired Ms. Shaw, uniformed as a man. The piece is at once a study in role playing, gender, personal and professional seduction and the allure and illusion of show business. Ms. Weaver — changing costumes from a Niagara of white gown to one of deep blue, stripping to corset and gartered stockings, baring her bosom, dressing again, putting on airs and putting down Ms. Shaw, the clownish agent who goes undercover to offer himself as her professional and personal partner — is a force to be reckoned with. This piece ranges among the realistic, romantic and absurd and is at best in dealing with the duality of an actor's life."It's a Small House and We've Lived in It Always" is a thoughtfully choreographed work that is splendidly enhanced by the bluesy music of Mr. Clark. With three chairs as its only props, little speech, some song and much meaningful movement and expressive acting, the piece casts Ms. Weaver, in blouse and skirt, and Ms. Shaw in shirt and trousers, as longtime cohabitants engaged in a contest for space.As they move apart and then together, spurn advances and accept closeness, mime rejection and flirtation and reveal need, the two performers enact the ebb and flow of a universally resonant relationship.

back to top

2002 page