Dress Suits to Hire
Described as a "lesbian noir" piece, Dress Suits tells all about two women, Deeluxe and Michigan, who are shacking up in the lobby of a clothing rental shop in the East Village. As the action begins, the more butch partner, Deeluxe (Peggy Shaw), slips on a pair of nylon stockings while singing a love song in a husky baritone. She wears gender roles as one might put on a shirt, seeming equally comfortable in a button-down item or a camisole. Moments later, she asphyxiates herself with her right arm, but this becomes only a minor obstacle; even death is but a costume for these women. (Incidentally, the aforementioned arm develops into its own character named "Little Peter" later in the play.)
The writing displays an almost hypnotic fascination with language; every page is loaded with double-entendres and florid prose. For example, Michigan (Lois Weaver) tells the police that she first "discovered" the body of her seemingly deceased lover in the Hotel Universal in Salamanca. That's only one of many sexual puns in this erotically charged work. At other times, the humor takes on a more vaudevillian style. When Deeluxe finally comes to after her self-asphyxiation, the first thing she asks for is the car keys. Michigan tells her that she has "expired," and this leads to snappy repartée worthy of Laurel and Hardy:
DEELUXE: Why? My license is good!
MICHIGAN: Not your license! You're no good. You're expired. They won't let a dead woman run around in a Chevrolet!
Weaver (who also directs the production) and Shaw have the onstage chemistry of two consummate performers in a labor of love. Weaver's role is the more aggressive of the two, and the more womanly. In the world of this play, femininity is a potentially dangerous force, and Weaver portrays her character's sexuality as predatory. On the other hand, Shaw's masculinity expresses itself in violent but ultimately ineffectual gestures that hint at her character's repression.