by Ed Malin · June 12, 2014
Playwrights on New Plays #86 Ed Malin shares his thoughts on Natural Novice seen at Planet Connections Festivity
This year's Planet Connections Theatre Festivity features Siobhan O'Loughlin's solo show Natural Novice. How appropriate, seeing that Siobhan has the ability to give us a virtual planet full of characters. I have enjoyed her work before, such as the Hurricane Katrina aftermath piece The Rope In Your Hands, for which she interviewed and portrayed dozens of New Orleanians from all walks of life. I also saw and reviewed an earlier version of Natural Novice (http://www.nytheatre.com/Review/2012-natural-novice-ed-malin) and am happily weighing in on the current version. After one more performance, the show is touring to festivals in St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Chicago.
In a packed theater, Siobhan appealed to an audience surrounding her on three sides as to the pros and cons of shaving. Sophisticated women have been brought up to remove hair from their armpits, legs, faces, etc. by any means necessary. Contrast this painful societal trend with the independent, hairy women Siobhan has recently met while living on an art commune in Vermont. Now back in New York City and determined not to shave if she doesn't want to, Siobhan finds herself stared at in yoga class, questioned by the youngsters she babysits, and shunned by some men (although the males referenced in the play shave their own backs, etc. to avoid any double standard).
How did women get stuck with this clearly painful burden? Siobhan's many interviewees sound off. After the show, it became clear that some of these voices belonged to people in attendance, while others were considered and rotated in and out of the show. This kind of evolution in the piece, plus the added strength of the musical accompaniment from Zack Branch (cello) and Beth Lauerbach (flute / piano) shows the artist's experimental dedication.
Isn't this an issue that affects people all around the world?
Particularly memorable is the female character who believes that pornography with completely shaven women is tantamount to child abuse fantasy. There is also a lesbian character who prefers shaven women, so she--by not shaving--can somehow feel like the stronger one. There are so many interesting voices, and nicely executed changeovers. Director Mario Giacalone has done a good job of keeping the many personae distinct and believable. Siobhan's characterizations continue to evolve. The ironic transexual character feels quite real, as do the children who have ever seen their mother shave and think women are supposed to be hairless.