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Miss America

Split Britches' terrific new show is a moving and provocative look at lost ideals and contemporary American politics.

Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver in Miss America
(© Lori E. Seid)
"I am your co-dependent Cassandra of a falling empire," announces Lois Weaver early on in Miss America, the terrific new Split Britches show that she co-created with longtime collaborator Peggy Shaw. The pair established their reputations in the early 1980s by examining butch/femme lesbian dynamics. And while that is not absent from their current work, the duo is now taking a broader look at contemporary politics.

There are some blatantly didactic moments, such as Weaver's outlining of all the "terrorist" acts committed by the United States, inclusive of the annihilation of Native Americans, slavery, and the bombing of civilian targets. But these segments are balanced by more whimsical interludes, including a very funny faux tap dance performed by Shaw, and a trio of short comic sketches that examine attitudes toward adultery in the United States, England, and France.

The two writer/performers have such a strong rapport with one another, and can create either tension or harmony depending upon what's called for at any given time. Weaver pours on the charm, establishing a friendly connection with the audience early on through direct address and the taking of photographs of individual theater patrons. Shaw has a drier wit, but a magnetic presence that infuses even the more ludicrous actions that she enacts with a quiet dignity.

Jan Bell's lighting nicely captures the shifting dynamics of the piece, including some moodily illuminated sequences in the back hallway, which opens onto the main playing area. Vivian Stoll's original music and sound design also help to establish the atmosphere, as do some very simple, low-budget special effects such as a large fan that gives the illusion of a mighty wind as Weaver stands in front of projected footage of a violent rain storm.

The title references both the recurring beauty pageant motif within the show, as well as its underlying thematic concerns about "missing" America and the ideals of the American Dream that seem to have been lost. The piece has a fragmented structure, with lyrical language and repeated imagery weaving their way into a non-linear narrative that is both moving and provocative.


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