My Secret Garden
“It’s not like they’re going to masturbate in front of you. I’m sure they’re just going to moan a little,” I whispered to my friend as the lights dimmed. We were attending the opening night of My Secret Garden, and she was slightly nervous about watching a show about women’s sexual fantasies performed live in front of her.
Based on Nancy Friday’s well-known book by the same name, the show explores Friday’s inspiration for the writing and the interviews she does with the women she profiles. Performed by a cast of four, Mimi Quillin plays Friday, Jane Blass, McKenzie Frye and Lyn Philistine rotate between roles as Friday’s friends and the women she interviews.
“It’s 1970 and the world is on fire,” Quillin states ecstatically, listing examples of racial equality and the sexual revolution. She believes that the world is so different than it used to be, that the time is right for a book about sexual fantasies. “I’ve never seen one,” she remarks, asking, “and why not?”
Her peers, however, are not quite as welcoming of the idea. She is told by her editor to not alienate her readers. She is told by her therapist that women simply don’t have these kinds of fantasies. And she is told by her male friends that women don’t need fantasies, because they have men. Friday, however, is determined that she is right, stating indignantly, “Now that we have the pill and we have our own orgasms, you’d think we deserve our own fantasies.”
A few of her friends reluctantly admit to indulging in fantasies, but only after much coaxing. They are embarrassed, both by the fantasies and by the fact that they have them at all. Even if the world is on fire in 1970, these flames do not seem to make their way into women’s bedrooms.
The associations between female purity and female sexuality are physically presented to the audience, as the show’s set more resembles a Victorian tea party than a happening disco lounge. Floral-patterned chairs and couches in pastel tones and white wicker tables adorn the stage, as even more flowers descend from the ceiling. However, this purity is soon dissipated when Friday places an ad for women to write to her with their fantasies, and they respond by the hundreds.
The show takes a slightly disturbing turn here, as the trio of actresses begin sharing their fantasies. Many somehow feature rape and incest, and some even include animals. Friday is not unfazed by this, and her response to these stories makes her sympathetic and surprised. At one point she questions her ability to write the book, saying, “It scares me! I’m not ready for it.”
Some strategically placed moments of brevity are also featured in the script, including a letter read by the husband, who claims his wife asked him to write for her, stating indignantly that his wife has no need for sexual fantasies and that she is a “clean, healthy woman,” then hastening to add that, were more stories about women’s sexual fantasies to be shared, he would be interested in reading them.
In a cast of lesser quality, these scenes would be uncomfortable, or even painful to watch. However, this trio of actresses brings a true depth and quality to these women. Each woman and each fantasy are distinctly separate and unique, and all of them are sympathetic and even understandable. Something as private and personal as sexual fantasies is difficult to translate to the stage, but these women are able to do it.
In the age of confessional entertainment, where The Real World and Sex and the City rule the ratings, where fantasies are discussed and shared over cocktails in bars, the relevance of this show is questionable. Is it that shocking? But at the same time, one wonders if the audience is ready for such an explicit discussion of what happens behind closed doors. Would this show receive the appalled condemnation of Janet Jackson’s breast at the Super Bowl? Or would it receive the Golden Globe awards that Sex and the City was given year after year? Many of the confessions in the play were met with awkward laughter instead of thoughtful silence. Almost four decades after Friday’s book was published, is the world still not as “on fire” as she thought it would be?
This show raises the questions, not the answers. But perhaps that’s what Friday really wanted. It did reinforce the fact that sexual satisfaction with women will always be a topic of discussion. It certainly was with my friend and me on our way out of the theatre.