In their latest collaboration as the legendary lesbian-feminist theater troupe Split Britches, Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver are joined by performance artist Stacy Makishi in Salad of the Bad Café, playing through March 4 at La MaMa. A tale of unrequited love, the play is set in the summer of 1945 when Japan was weeping, the American South was seething, and the word "gender" was mostly used in grammar class.
TM: How did Salad of the Bad Café come to be?
SHAW: Stacy's fault.
MAKISHI: I love Carson McCullers' Ballad of the Sad Café. And I thought we sort of matched those characters: Peggy being Amelia, the big, sort of Amazon woman...
WEAVER: And me being the mean husband.
MAKISHI: No offense, Lois! She does this sort of carnivorous husband.
WEAVER: (Snorts like a beast) I jumped at the chance to play that.
TM: Actually, Lois, you do seem to be trying to break out of your stereotype femme roles.
WEAVER: It's funny--over the years I've been obsessed with the idea of femininity and its representation on stage, and the difficulty with talking about "femmeness" as opposed to "butchness". Butchness seems to be easier to identify and theorize about. And yet it seems like the more I struggle with that, the more butch I get on stage. Joan Nestle wrote that the older you get, the more butch you get, and I resist that idea. I keep thinking I'm going to dye my hair and go back to that hyper-femme. But for now it's more restful to play the butch; it's not as high maintenance.
SHAW: Well, it's easier to jump on a table in a suit [as Lois does in Salad] then to try that in heels.
WEAVER: Well, I wouldn't say that. This is a huge subject between us, actually.
MAKISHI: (laughing) Be careful Peggy.
SHAW: Why? No, I'm not going to be careful. I think it's as you said: When you get older, it's high maintenance to be femme.
WEAVER: But I think I got confused just now because I was talking about in my life. I made a choice recently to not be high femme on a day-to-day basis. [At the same time] I have made the choice to play the butch in this show. But I think those are two different things.
TM: Do you find yourself, Peggy, trying to expand from your usual butch role, like in the scene where you're wearing a dress?
SHAW: No, I'm only wearing a dress under pressure. The argument we have at the top of the show is exactly what happens: I'm not comfortable in a dress, I don't want to wear one, but somebody has to wear a dress.
WEAVER: We've had that fight over and over.
MAKISHI: Over the last three years.
WEAVER: And so finally we had enough distance from it to have the real fight. Peggy and I reconstructed the argument and Stacy furiously took notes and we lifted lines from that.
SHAW: We don't make anything up. In that way, we're not very creative. We share a certain aesthetic of reality and truth, trying to find some truth for ourselves because so little has been written about women that's been true.