In the first scene of LadyM, a show devised by Francesca Chilcote, Rachel Hynes, Vanita Kalra, and Anastasia Wilson, a woman dressed in white dumps an entire bottle of ketchup onto a burger. She tears the burger apart with her teeth, groaning with pleasure. The audience doesn’t know whether to laugh – to play along with her – or watch her uncomfortably, so they do both.
That balancing game sums up LadyM, which is in its second round of workshops. It’s bizarre but warm, and as earnest as it is rough around the edges.
The show uses the female characters of Macbeth as a springboard to discuss blood – menstrual blood, specifically. In LadyM, three capable actresses (Chilcote, Hynes, and Wilson) take on the roles of the witches to explore as many meanings of menstruation as possible in an hour and change. The piece’s loose center is a cauldron, which the witches fill with items both real and imagined to make the right brew. In go tampons, gauzy red fabric, and mimed objects as diverse as measurements, ideas plucked from audience members’ heads, and vomit.
The scenes are as diverse as those ingredients. Sometimes a single witch will seize center stage for an impromptu monologue. Sometimes all three of them break into a sequence of devised movement set to music. It’s like a cross between The Vagina Monologues and Sleep No More served in a DivaCup.
A show like this could go wrong, fast, but fortunately it’s acted by a trio of fearless women who are as comfortable with each other as they are exploring the bizarre. They don’t hesitate to mime machine guns that fire pads, or tackle each other to the ground in an attempt to “lean in” a la Sheryl Sandberg. Their physicality is commanding: each floats or shoots across the stage in dance-inspired steps. They act and move like witches, but the kind of witch you’d want to get a fair-trade coffee with.
LadyM showcases the moments of genuine emotional connection devised theater is capable of. In one scene, the witches turn to the audience with handfuls of tampons. “If you’ve had a bad day,” one of them says, “I want you to know I am here for you. Whatever you need. In fact, why don’t you try this new product?”
“This tampon was designed by Gucci,” another says.
“This tampon is also a curling iron! And a heating pad!” says the third. They force tampons into the audience’s hands as they parody the fantastical claims of tampon commercials.
In another scene, Anastasia Wilson addresses her own period in an excellent monologue that both satirizes and takes inspiration from spoken word. “When shall we meet again? Fuck if I know, you surprise me,” she says, exasperated.
However, LadyM is also an example of what happens when devised theater doesn’t quite work. Sometimes the scenes shift too quickly from commedia dell’arte to serious, which gives the audience whiplash and makes the actresses hard to take seriously for a few minutes. Sometimes it’s hard to glean much meaning from a scene at all. And the show occasionally slides into the self-indulgent, as when the witches cover themselves with bright red blood.
The best part of devised theater, though, is that it’s easy to change. Not only is LadyM in workshops, but the devisers are actively soliciting feedback. Most of the audience stayed for a post-show discussion, and when an audience member asked what a certain segment meant, the actresses volunteered its title: “Things I Would Tell My Daughter About Her Period.” The segment immediately snapped into focus for me, and I wished that I’d had more titles to guide me through the piece. Maybe the next time LadyM plays, it will have more structure – which is what ultimately gives viewers defined spaces upon which to map their own menstruation experiences.
When the show ended, I felt lighter, as if hauling my menstruating self home wouldn’t be such a challenge. The woman in front of me had a tampon stuck in her bun. The witches were smiling as they chatted with the audience. If this is what LadyM had set out to achieve, I thought as I left, then it succeeded.
Running Time: 75 minutes, with no intermission.
LadyM’s workshops played September 17th and 18th at Atlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H Street NE, in Washington D.C. They were a collaboration between Collective Eleven, Women from Mars, and Gitana Theatre.