Angry Women and Camp

Award Winning Comedy “Medea’s Got Some Issues” opens Friday 26th at 7:30 at Stage773. Tickets here.

This is an exchange between Ana Marie Cox and the wonderful Samantha Bee  on an interview in today’s New York Times Sunday Magazine:

AMC: Which do you think men find more threatening: a funny woman or an angry woman?
SB: I think angry women are so easy to dismiss as crazy or shrill. It’s harder to dismiss a funny woman.

AMC: A funny woman’s often an angry woman but she’s just…
SB: Harder to ignore.

This topic of the angry woman has been so much on the headlines lately, because of a perceived sexists double standard that allows Bernie Sanders to rage, and forces Hillary Clinton to tone down her message and smile as much as possible. An angry man is strong, and admirable, but an angry woman is a bitch and off-putting.

In the rehearsal room, for the new production of “Medea’s Got Some Issues”, Lisa and I have worked incessantly on tone. As we try to set up a reinterpretation of Euripide’s Medea as a one woman show, the biggest challenge was to find at every corner the right tone, in part to avoid the whole show to sound like a rant, in part to make sure the anger of Medea doesn’t kill the intended comedy. It’s a fine line to walk and one that requires so much discipline. Ultimately, we feel that in order for Medea to win the audience over, particularly on the first part of the show, she needed to use a detached humor to express her underlying anger.

One my favorite performances of Meryl Streep, in her current ham phase, is as the ruthless Miranda in “The Devil Wears Prada”. Streep famously chose not to raise her voice, making her character scarier in a perfect implementation of the old adage “less is more” (how I wish she would have taken some of that Mies van der Rohe’s medicine for her performance in the movie Doubt!).

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On the other side, of the spectrum we have pure camp. An all-time gay favorite is Faye Dunaway on “Mommie Dearest”. While the movie is well known now for the over-the-top antics of Dunaway playing Joan Crawford, the actress owns her madness to a level that is both admirable and disarming. You just can’t keep your eyes off her, particularly when she becomes unintentionally funny.

 

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Any human can benefit tremendously from redirecting anger with humor.

At the core of gay liberation, in the 20th century, was the use of humor to subvert gender roles and torpedo the status quo and its power (Ludlam, Waters, and Almodovar understood like nobody the infinite potential of camp as a political weapon).

Some exceptional women have also perfected that weapon as a craft: and there you have the history of comediennes as a testament to the power to make powerful social and political points, through the use of irony, sarcasm, and parody. This is how and why it’s so hard to ignore a Dorothy Parker, a young Joan Rivers, a Madeline Kahn, a Divine, or nowadays a Tina Fey or Amy Schumer.

Oscar Wilde said: “It is a curious fact that people are never so trivial as when they take themselves seriously.”

For me, that’s the ultimate challenge, at hand, as a theater maker: how to create relevance through humor, how to be silly without ever being stupid.

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