*****************With her short-cropped hair, and dressed in a black suit with red tie, Peggy Shaw doesn't look like your typical 65-year-old grandmother -- nor does she talk like one as she shares intimate details about her aging body in MUST the inside story, at the Public Theater. A collaboration with the London-based Clod Ensemble, and co-written by director Suzy Willson, the show features beautifully scripted passages that are simultaneously grounded in Shaw's autobiography and set loose into flights of fancy.
MUST incorporates a jazzy score by Paul Clark, performed live by a trio of musicians (Andrew Hall, John Paul Gandy, and Calina de la Mare). Most of the time, the music functions as a mood-setting backdrop to Shaw's words, but it erupts into the forefront in a terrific song entitled "Rattlin' Bones" (written by Clark and Shaw) that is the clear highlight of the production.
Shaw employs a keen, often self-deprecating wit as she describes her injuries, her experience of childbirth, her love of women, and more. Many of her remarks are delivered in a conspiratorial tone, as she draws the audience into her world. Accompanying her various monologues are projections of x-rays, human cells, and other microscopic medical imagery that shows the beauty and unknown territory that lies deep inside.
The metaphor of geology is repeatedly invoked by Shaw: "My back is slowly moving away from my hip-bone toward America," she intones. "My vertebrae curving toward the horizon, slipping underneath the sea of love, taking a million years to crawl up out of the water." And while Shaw is not the first to compare her body to a landscape, MUST nevertheless feels refreshingly original and evocatively poetic.
-- Dan Bacalzo