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{My Lingerie Play} 2017

Diana Oh sets out to "queer the world" at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.

Diana Oh in {My Lingerie Play} at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.
(© Jeremy Daniel)

"Why do you create a safer, more courageous world for us all to live in?" It would serve you well to prepare a poignant answer to that question ahead of your trip to {My Lingerie Play}, where your first assignment will be to scrawl your response on a brown paper bag and display it for Diana Oh's newest crowd of disciples. This moment of crafts and contemplation satisfies step one of her pursuit to "queer the world" — a mission she defines as a "disruption" and "confrontation" of a lying patriarchal, capitalist, cis-heteronormative society. It's an action-heavy call to arms, which Oh physically manifests in her glittery and scantily clad rock concert (codirected by Oh and Orion Stephanie Johnstone). But for all the energy she summons from the choir to whom she's preaching, Oh finds herself settling back into that initial "why" question far more than she poses any "how"s . The answers certainly celebrate the character and ideals of those fighting important fights, but with them comes a distinct solipsism that we'd be remiss to ignore.

Contemplating our noble motivations rather than how to put our noble motivations into action isn't necessarily a flaw in Oh's work, which is unquestionably daring, original, and entrancing in its unabashed disarray. It just leaves you feeling like a revved-up engine with nowhere to go — and at times wondering if our spellbinding Pied Piper even knows where she wants to take us. A street performer by trade, Oh is accustomed to curating performances that grab attention and flash big questions with a bright neon sign in order to provoke conversations about topics that are important to her. These range from gender identity, to societally enabled male violence, to systemic racial oppression (all of which she acutely feels as someone who identifies as a queer Korean-American woman). She's had eight prior installations of {My Lingerie Play} (this is the ninth of 10), taking her literal soapbox from the 7 train to Times Square to the Brooklyn Museum. Now finding herself in the unnatural environs of a proscenium, her captive audience is already there waiting for her to lead the way. And while our host exudes a light that is at once calming and revolutionary, the route feels like a winding path that leads us back to where we started.

Oh opens with stories about the high school boyfriend who inspired her to shoplift her first piece of sexy lingerie (a red lace bra that she wears for the duration of this section). Her poor upbringing in Los Angeles — a family of five living in a two-bedroom townhouse — is a backdrop for her earlier memories, followed by her cross-country move to the all-women's Smith College. It's there, Oh says, that she first experienced the freedom of a female community where one could roam around campus barely clothed with no fear of judgment or sexual assault. She reflects on it like a lightbulb moment and, as such attempts to recreate a similarly cathartic experience for her audience — be it through a primal scream, an onstage dance party, or extreme trust exercises with audience volunteers (fortunately, Oh's highest priority is "enthusiastic consent," or I might take issue with some of the boundaries she crosses during these demonstrations). In between, she and her band perform a collection of loosely related songs, which feel like a blend of hard rock and 1960s folk — as if the contemplative spirit of Joni Mitchell were marching on Washington with an electric guitar (though her powerful voice is far more Stevie Nicks than Mitchell).

Oh does all of this in the name of grievances she lists in a section of the show she calls "My Rant." It ping-pongs from issues with sex education, to the dating ritual of "ghosting," to police brutality — with, of course, plenty of commentary on the current administration, which has perpetuated many of these unjust practices (perhaps not ghosting — I don't have independent confirmation ). It's a confused web of free-flowing thoughts and emotions, for which she preempts criticism by arguing that theater holds a mirror up to the times. "Right now the world looks like sh*t," says Oh, "so our rooms are gonna be a little messy."

That doesn't compensate for her sloppy arguments and logical gaps, but there is an undeniable feeling of safety in the literally and figuratively messy room Oh curates for her audiences. More likely than not, most are coming to {My Lingerie Play} to lay down the arms they carry for battle everyday. Existence itself has to be constantly justified, defended, and legitimized. Demanding the same within the refuge of a theater, perhaps, would be the greatest injustice of all.