The Personal Is Political in {my lingerie play}

Originally published on The Culture Trip
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The need for “safe spaces” has been written about endlessly in the press. Some espouse the belief that people, especially disenfranchised minorities, need and deserve places where they can share their thoughts and feelings without fear of mockery or repercussions.

Others claim that liberal snowflakes who can’t handle triggers or conflict are evolving into intolerant people unable to cope with the exposure to distressing or demoralizing viewpoints.

After spending two hours inside the safe space that is Diana Oh’s {my lingerie play} at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, I have to say that being in a safe space can feel pretty amazing.

Matt Park, Diana Oh, Ryan McCurdy, and Rocky Vega in {my lingerie play} at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater - photo by Jeremy Daniel

Matt Park, Diana Oh, Ryan McCurdy, and Rocky Vega in {my lingerie play} |  © Jeremy Daniel

Formally titled {my lingerie play} 2017: THE CONCERT AND CALL TO ARMS!!!!!!!!! The Final Installation, this production, co-directed by Oh and Orion Stephanie Johnstone, is part one-woman show, part rock concert, and part good old-fashioned protest

It presents righteous anger and frustration with the patriarchal status quos of race, gender, and sexuality. Oh’s performance is simultaneously enraging and inspiring, comforting and nurturing.

A singer-songwriter and performance artist, Oh invites the audience into Rattlestick’s small black-box theater, which has been transformed into a glittering haven of free speech and sex positivity. As the crowd assembles, Oh stands atop a soapbox onstage, holding a protest sign. To the sound of Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” and other protest songs, audience members are encouraged to write on paper bags their answers to the question “Why do you create a safer and more courageous world for us?” 

Fast and emotional

Fast-paced and emotional, the two-hour, intermissionless performance begins in earnest with Oh sharing memories of her childhood and adolescence. She recalls teen cliques, high-school parties, shoplifting, and her then-burgeoning sexuality. Her memory of her first “fuck me bra” is especially entertaining.

The stories, which she tells with wry humor, are interspersed with songs like “Punk Rock Baby” and “As Strong as a Man” performed by Oh and her band, which includes Ryan McCurdy (the show’s music director) on drums, Matt Park on guitar, and Rocky Vega on bass.

Oh makes the tinsel-covered stage—and the seats in the audience as well—her living room and political podium. “Do you know how hard it is to sing in a corset?” she asks after a particularly passionate musical number that concludes with her climbing on the front row of seats. The evening takes a turn towards politics as she remembers her time at Smith College, which involved a clothes-free convocation and the thrill of knowing she lived in a “safe and celebratory” women-only campus.

Diana Oh and Rocky Vega in {my lingerie play} at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater - photo by Jeremy Daniel

Ryan McCurdy, Diana Oh, and Rocky Vega in {my lingerie play} | © Jeremy Daniel

It’s during the moments when Oh blends her personal narrative and her political beliefs that {my lingerie play} is at its finest. Her convictions are so deeply felt that the combination feels both seamless and organic. Thankfully, it’s never preachy.

Oh first took to the streets in her lingerie after she had a harrowing experience of street harassment that left her fearing for her life. Strangers had followed her down an empty street commenting on her “thick ass” and calling her a “stupid bitch” after she told them to stop. She decided to protest such cat-calling by climbing onto a soapbox in Times Squaredressed in her underwear.

Gentle and sensual

{my lingerie play} is replete with moments of personal and political fusion through both performance and participation. Admittedly, audience participation often causes this critic to shrink down in her chair, cringing in dread, but the scenes in Oh’s show that involve the audience fit naturally into the story.

“Who wants to make out with me?” Oh asks, before guiding a volunteer through her “super sexy hot consent workshop,” demonstrating different stages of asking for and receiving permission before engaging in physical intimacy. Both gentle and sensual, the scene was beautiful to witness.

Ryan McCurdy, Diana Oh, and Rocky Vega in {my lingerie play} at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater - photo by Jeremy Daniel

Ryan McCurdy, Diana Oh, and Rocky Vega in {my lingerie play} | © Jeremy Daniel

Also beautiful is Oh’s anger. When she proudly announces, “I’m going to rant for as long as I want to,” she fulfills her promise, taking on sex education, racism, education (or lack-there-of), the acceptance of queer and trans people, and the standoffish and shame-filled relationship with sexuality that persists in America.

She also deals with a seemingly endless list of patriarchal abuses in society and, more specifically in the entertainment industry. The death and rape threats she received followed the first installation of {my lingerie play} are just one example of this. Another is the election of Donald Trump—whom Oh never mentions by name, referring instead to “the shitty thing that happened in November.”

Joy and pain

Especially moving is the song Oh wrote for a bandmate’s daughter, who was born just after Trump’s election. Gently sung by Oh in a grief-stricken voice, the song’s first words are, “I’m so sorry.”

It’s appalling that women and queer people aren’t free from predatory violence, that a different person isn’t President of the United States, that sexuality is something people fear so much. It’s appalling that a show like {my lingerie play} is necessary—but it is. Oh has another installation coming up and she doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon. She will continue “trying to create an area that holds both joy and pain.” So far, she has succeeded.

{my lingerie play} continues through October 28 at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place, New York, NY 10014. Get tickets here.

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