Thursday, January 17, 2013

"Ruff": Peggy Shaw rocks Dixon Place

Watching Peggy Shaw perform Ruff--her new one-woman show at Dixon Place for PS 122's COIL festival--offers an intimate, affecting lesson in empathy. A legend in queer, progressive theater, the much-beloved Shaw suffered a stroke in 2011. This hour-long show is her comeback--a marvelous one--and a way of sharing what it feels like to know that some memories and resources that made you what you are are now unretrievable.

What remains, as Shaw performs it, races by in a stream of consciousness and digressions that are Shaw's but quickly become the audience's, too. As if I'd had the stroke, I found myself struggling to retain the memory of specific words--explication, quips, tales, often amusing--while sartorial details and props (one of which, a brown-and-white wingtip men's shoe, I briefly held for Shaw), body language, facial expressions, shadowy video imagery, music and song easily zapped into my brain and hunkered down. In fact, Shirley Ellis's tongue-and-memory-twisting novelty hit from the 1960's, "The Name Game," became last night's earworm, finally dislodging this morning.

Shaw pivots from tender butch to stage-ruling rock star to slightly mystified stroke survivor who needs a trio of monitors to recall her intricate lines. The audience rides these rhythms and moods, grateful that we occasionally get to see those monitors, too--we sometimes need them--and even more grateful that Shaw has let us into her experience of loss.

Here's a 2010 video clip of Shaw talking about women's roles in theater.

One more thing, a special announcement from Dixon Place founder Ellie Covan: Shaw--who won PS 122's 2011 Ethyl Eichelberger Award--can now also boast that DP's theater has been named for her.

Directed by and co-written with Shaw's partner, Lois Weaver, Ruff runs through Saturday evening at Dixon Place. For a schedule of remaining shows and ticketing information, click here.

Dixon Place
161-A Chrystie Street (between Rivington and Delancey Streets), Manhattan

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