“You’re on your period!” rang out the only rehearsed male voice in “Mansplaining Musical,” one of 30 plays written for “Infinite Bitch,” a performance by the women of the San Francisco Neo-Futurists in honor of Women’s History Month.
Held in a small theater space of the PianoFight bar in downtown San Francisco on March 16 and 17, the performance was a holistic celebration of femininity and womanhood. From the miracles of the pocket space in men’s pants to the powerful influence and love of mothers, and from Björk to Lisa Frank, the Neo-Futurists not only created patriarchy-smashing, radical feminist pieces, but intimate portraits of the complexities of femininity.
The plays were written, directed and performed by an ensemble of women that included Vanessa Hope Schneider, Shaina Wagner, Tonya Narvaez, Krys Seli, Andie Patterson, Margaret McCarthy and Amy Langer, with contributions from Jessie Alsop, Brenda Arellano and Marisa Conroy. Among the standout plays were “Amy & Shaina have some facts about Connecticut,” “What in the fresh hell is happening in the Lisa Frank Facebook comments?” and “Theater Hates Straight Lines, but Loves Levels.”
In a particularly memorable moment during “A Youthful Rite of Passage,” Schneider and an audience member swayed awkwardly back and forth to the Kelly Clarkson hit “A Moment Like This” — a throwback to when Schneider went to prom in 2002. Schneider questioned the audience member about her date and whether she got a limo. The conversation was just the right mix of tender and awkward, a combination only found in adolescence, which the play sought to commemorate.
In “you have to tell me exactly how to do it or I’ll never get it right (#2)” McCarthy ran out shirtless, wordlessly instructing a man in the fourth row to show her how to put a bra on. The play dragged on for several minutes as the man searched for words while McCarthy stared at him, shirtless and doe-eyed.
Beyond purely comedic pieces, the performance also featured more sentimental works. In “Let’s take a minute for a Mom update,” Langer spoke about her mother’s long hours working at Kohl’s, which made it difficult for Langer to keep in touch with her. She ended the timed segment by promising the audience that she would try hard to call her mom soon. “I miss her,” Langer said as the seconds ticked away on her mom update. “I really do.”
Langer was captivating and absorbing throughout the entirety of the show. She transitioned with ease from moments of emotional vulnerability and poetics to joking during transitions and livening up a two-minute dance performance.
One of the plays was simply titled with the phone number of a cast member, Narvaez. After revealing that the title of the play was her cellphone number, Narvaez implored audience members to call her if they ever needed support in coming forward about sexual assault. “Me too,” Narvaez began, and the phrase echoed earnestly throughout the room.
Among the performance’s weaker points is a lack of diversity among the cast, which led to a dearth of narratives that addressed race. While the performance offered narratives that spanned socioeconomic barriers and the sexuality spectrum, they didn’t quite reach the level of intersectionality that a wholly inclusive performance would call for.
Ultimately, though, the plays presented during “Infinite Bitch” were inherently empowering, as they embodied the act of women making content for women.
At their best, the acts offered the women a surprisingly complex platform to be vulnerable, and more significantly, to be experimental with that vulnerability. At their weakest, the plays merely offered a burst of uninhibited creative energy — engaging ideas undercut by their own brevity. In essence, the range of content, resonance and success in the performance keenly highlighted the San Francisco Neo-Futurists Information Factoid #54321, as listed in the performance’s program: All women are real.
Contact Kate Tinney at [email protected].