Womanhood, and every begrudging complication that comes with it, has never been portrayed in a more over-the-top, piercing, and unusual way than in “The Mammaries of Tiresias,” Women* in Theater’s latest production.
The show is a truly unique experience, touching upon every corner of performance art. From dance to song to straight acting, each scene, distinct and entirely different from the previous, clutches onto the audience’s attention and draws us into each character’s eccentric world. Every single character’s gesture or movement is executed with a perfect balance of excessiveness and precision, only serving to augment the surrealism of the show.
The plot of “The Mammaries of Tiresias” is not simple and initially presents a bit of a challenge to the audience. Therese (Davis Leonard ‘19) is fed up to the point of sheer madness with the expectations placed on women, specifically in regards to running the household and raising children. What’s the simplest solution? Becoming a man. As Therese triumphantly disposes of her mammaries and takes up manhood, her husband (Lillian Bornstein ‘18) involuntarily becomes a woman.
While the central plot revolves around Therese, now donning the name Tiresias, sparking a revolution among women to stop having children and her now-womanly husband’s effort to stop this revolution, the show is speckled with scenes diverting from this central story that explicitly state the hardships of femininity. The scenes that stick to the tribulations and misadventures of Tiresias are incredibly fanciful and flamboyant, but the divergent scenes ground us by bringing up relevant social issues related to sexual assault, transgender identities and gender stereotyping.
Where the show lacks in set, it makes up for in sound. The set — completely bare except for a single black box — lends itself to all of the actors miming most of their actions. With each action came accompanying sound effects (i.e., slamming cabinets and screeching coffee steamers when Therese was in her kitchen), which only served to continually bring life to the otherwise bare theater. Music also plays into the eccentricity of the show, with the actors draped by songs ranging from early 19th century French ballads to “Dear Future Husband” by Meghan Trainor.
The use of balloons to symbolize breasts and, as a consequence, womanhood, also plays a vital role in the show that adds color. In a scene straying from the central plot line, the entire cast fills the room with balloons and then violently destroys each one in their outcry against male domination. It is an incredibly satisfying scene, as each actor runs about the room letting cathartic screams through as each balloon pops.
Only five actors appear onstage throughout the entire performance; however, each of their presences is so bold, extravagant, and varied that they take up the entire space, each dominating one another for high status positions. Gianna Clark ‘19 plays characters like Monsieur Presto, a goofy Frenchman, an unnamed girl divulging the story of the first time she felt uncomfortable in a bikini and a patriotic reporter from Paris, Texas. None of these characters would lend an audience member to expect they would be related in any way, but they tie together in the subtlety of pushing the theme of the show forward: the complexities of womanhood, more specifically the feelings of unhappiness and anger women have when they are confined to societal standards of being the ‘perfect housewife,’ cannot be overlooked.
This show is incredibly timely in revisiting issues many members of the American public have recently brought to light. Specifically, in our current political climate, women’s rights have been on the forefront of many activists’ minds (for example, the D.C. Women’s March on Washington drew about one million individuals to protest President Trump’s derogatory comments toward women). The show instills an energy into the audience that urges women to abandon any shred of confinement they may find thrust upon them. In this show, the trope of the housewife is not merely left behind, but utterly ripped to shreds by the ferocious Tiresias. As Tiresias rallies the public to abandon the gender stereotypes instilled into society, we are reminded of the steps women must take in the real world for equality. The show carries social impact not by demonstrating gentle reminders of this concept, but jolting the audience alive in the most jarring, exciting, unexpected and poignant way.
“The Mammaries of Tiresias” runs from February 23rd to the 25th at 8 pm in the Nitery Theater.
Contact Elizabeth Gerson at egerson ‘at’ stanford.edu