by Leta Tremblay · May 4, 2014
Indie Artists on New Plays #88 Leta Tremblay looks at Puff Puff in Festival of the Offensive Times Square is an offence to the senses. It’s loud, bright, crowded, and obtrusive. Why tourists continue to flock there is beyond me.
This is what went through my mind as I left the Producer’s Club on West 44th Street after seeing Libby Emmons’ Puff Puff presented as part of the first annual Festival of the Offensive.
According to the program, “The Festival of the Offensive (F-OFF) is dedicated to showcasing live performances that otherwise might not be produced because the establishment doesn’t have the balls to produce them.” This branding was also reiterated in a pre-recorded curtain speech before the start of the performance.
And I get it. I can get on board with that mindset. As artists, we’ve all been left out of something that we wanted to be a part of or had our voices stifled because someone else didn’t place value on them. But rather than feeling like a call to arms and a community that I could be a part of, I felt immediately isolated by this mantra.
Calling out what is offensive immediately places judgment. I typically go to the theater with very few preconceived notions about what I’m going to see. I may know some of the actors or the company or the general topic but I purposely try not to learn too much after my initial interest is peeked so that I can experience the production with an open heart and mind. Tonight, that option was taken away from me up front as I was immediately told “this will be offensive so F-OFF.”
Even so, I can see the effectiveness of being offensive. Offensive is loud, bright, crowded, obtrusive. Offensive demands to be noticed. Offensive is trying to get a rise out of you. And it will keep pushing the envelope until it does.
In this way, Puff Puff is an effective production. The play centers on Ali (Ali Ayala) and Libby (Libby Emmons), co-workers in the Finance Department of an office somewhere in New York City. Throughout the play, each character affectionately calls the other “Puss”. Both are bored and unhappy at their jobs so their talk revolves around office gossip. There is a lot to talk about and they are not shy about expressing their judgments on topics that affect their colleagues such as gang rape, abortion, gender transition, sex trafficking, and murder -- just to name a few.
Both actresses play their parts as these purposefully unattractive characters well. They speak in a very matter of fact, flippant, almost vapid manner with just a hint of over dramatic flare. They are not impassioned about the morality of any of the issues at hand although at one point they do seem aroused by the dangerous idea of selling a baby to pornographers to pay for breast augmentation with butt fat.
But these offensive themes have not simply emerged from the mind of the playwright. Emmons provides a bibliography on her website (www.li88yinc.com/puffpuffinfoff/bibliography) with links to real articles that inspired the events within her play. Everything from “Voluntary amputation and extra phantom limbs” to “Six Words: Black Babies Cost Less To Adopt.” The script is a mash up of these real life events and circumstances.
Emmons seems to ask us to consider how offensive any of this really is. To whom? Should we be more offended? How far can the envelope be pushed before someone gets up? How can we address these realities in the world? Who are these women? What right have we to judge them?
The world is not as simple as right and wrong. Is it? Should it be?
One person’s loud, bright, crowded, and obtrusive hellhole to be avoided at all costs is someone else’s melodic and glittery treasure trove of amusements. And still someone else’s paycheck, meal ticket, rent, entrepreneurial opportunity.
Who am I to judge?