Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Soup Show

Photo/Lauren Sharpe

Though both shows are a mix of gimmicks and truths, the biggest difference between The Soup Show and The Vagina Monologues is that the former, with its blend of non-illusory neo-futurism and revelation, is more sincere, more daring, and more specific. Both sample from the wide range of difficulties women face, quoting from a large pool of found text (a Disembodied Voice), but The Soup Show largely avoids anonymity, focusing on the specifics of creators Desiree Burch, Cara Francis, and Erica Livingston. Under the direction of Lauren Sharpe, it's also filled by well-paced action--including some audience interaction--that makes the show more immediately compelling (and far less tame) than Monologues.

The biggest difference, in other words, is not that all three performers are fully naked throughout the show, and that's as it should be, since to sum a show up by something that's really not that shocking after all would be pointlessly reductive. Or, as Livingston puts it at the opening of the show: "Don't assume you know me by this, this nakedness. I will show you who I am, but this is not it alone." For them, their nakedness is proof that they're not hiding anything, a high point in the unabashed repertoire of the New York Neo-Futurists.

Taking their structure from the medicine shows of old, each "scene" is based on a freak-show attraction, at the end of which, an "elixir" created during that performance is bestowed upon an audience member. After the vaudevillian Sword Swallower number, in which Francis sings about a formative experience with "good old fashioned cock," she hands a bottle to someone "for strength." During the Hysterical Woman, the actresses run the gamut of derogatory jokes against women ("What do you tell the woman with two black eyes?" "Nothing, she's already been told twice."), but from the comfort of an inflatable tub/cauldron at the center of the stage, sipping tea as they do so. The show is constantly upending expectations, most effectively during the Mermaid, which mocks pageantry: here, for the first time, they are dressed up, and here, for the first time, they skirt the truth (during the Q&A portion of the pageant), forced smiles plastered across their faces. It's funny because it's true: the women we crown "beautiful" are those who avoid, at all costs, the truth.

Under that banner, even the weaker scenes, like the Human Pincushion's "Burch 2010" politics, redeem themselves with open arms and honesty, literally: "What if you had simply opened your arms and welcomed in someone who needed it?" Furthermore, thanks to the rapid pace of the show, there's always something new: this scene's preceded by the Conjoined Twin, in which Burch speaks more directly to her own relationship "issues" (not necessarily problems), and to the ideal "dreamsicle wedding" she longs for. Even scenes which some might deem crude--like Francis's meditations and demonstrations of douching--are crucial, often leading to surprising revelations. "Why do we listen to voices that just come from nowhere and make points or offer suggestions when the real smart thing is the body, 'cause the body does." Cliches like witches? Not so easily dismissed when they're up on the stage, or when you consider that as many as nine million women (and men) may have been killed for simply being wise in an unsanctioned way. (Like The Soup Show cast.)

Since The Soup Show claims to be a medicine show, let it be judged as one: these are no snake-oil salesmen; their performances really are miracle curatives. Don't miss it.

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