Must - The Inside Story
nytheatre.com review by Nick Mwaluko
January 9, 2010
Must—the inside story charts an exquisitely painful episodic journey of an intelligent, insightful woman struggling to define her relationship with her body, friends, society, the medical community, and the universe at large through poetic language that invites its audience into a unique yet universal experience.
The one-person show that runs 50 minutes starts with a musical ensemble playing in the wings—bass, piano, and violin offer soothing music suddenly interrupted when legendary performer Peggy Shaw comes on stage to meet her audience. Her poetic language and virtuosity at storytelling lift an amazing story of struggle, alienation, and the inability of language to capture if not serve personal experience no matter how obviously intelligent and skilled the storyteller is—all is elevated to new heights. Music underscores linguistic flight throughout the performance.
She compares her body to land masses, shifting tectonic plates in constant redefinition, powerful enough to order the universe anew despite the failure of language, the medical community, and the universe to arrive and therefore appreciate difference, change. Several accidents have broken her body, now offered as proof positive of its resistance, vital defiance, its ability to heal from wounds while still scarred through memory. She speaks of her difficulty giving birth, in part because her bloated body filled the hospital room so full the doctor could not get past the door. It's a body that defies gravity as women were asked to before feminism. It's a body pained by her mother's electric shock treatment in 1950s America.
Body defiant. Peggy Shaw in three-piece suit, tie, with handkerchief, cropped hair, prominent cheekbones, says so much in silence. "Wanna see my body?" the 65-year-old lesbian grandmother asks her audience, removing her shirt, putting it back on, off then on again. What we see and don't see depends on what we bring of ourselves to identify with Peggy Shaw's personal story of triumph and struggle. That she is brave enough to offer it, that the Under the Radar Festival at the Public Theater is courageous enough to give her personal truth a platform, means one thing: Must is a must-see.