The Butch Monologues

The Butch Monologues
Collected, collated and edited by Laura Bridgeman. Directed by Julie McNamara. Hot Pencil Press, Vital Xposure & Theatre Works. Theatre Works, Acland Street, St Kilda VIC. 29 January to 3 February 2018

Playing to a packed house of gender diverse folks at Theatre Works, five performers tells tales of – as the press release has it – butch beginnings, desire, desirability, bravado, vulnerability, butch-on-femme sex and butch-on-butch sex.. ‘switches’ and ‘stones’, butch heroes and butch clothing (the male suit and tie seems to be the preferred option) – tales of butches, masculine women, transmen and gender rebels.  If you’re not exactly sure what ‘butch’ means, this show will tell you – well, `sort of because it’s not simple: there are many ways to be ‘butch’ or a ‘masculine woman’ or a ‘transman’.

The production per se is simple.  The performers line up on stage and while there is some interaction among them, mostly they step forward, one by one in turns, to tell us stories.  There are, I think, fifty-four of these in the show’s one hour running time.  If there is a slight initial confusion in that the five performers play many charactersfrom many diverse backgrounds and milieux rather than continue one individual’s developing story – we are soon past any preconceptions and we attend to the stories they tell us.  Inevitably, some of the stories are sad (some sad enough to make us gasp or wince) but told in a matter-of-fact manner with the irony and humour of distance.  There is a lot of laughter (and assent and affirmation) from the audience.  This is not a ‘poor me’ show.  There are frank confessions and proud assertions.  At the Q&A after the show, someone suggested that the show denigrates ‘femmes’.  I don’t think so: what this show does is reveal and endorse butches.

The butch cast has been recruited – with difficulty, because it’s summer, says a bemused director Julie McNamara – locally and all are wonderfully confident, engaging and clear.  One – relaxed and natural Anne ‘Dan’ Harris - hails from Brooklyn, NY, but the others are clearly Australian.  It’s Fiona Jones’ first time on stage, but we wouldn’t know if we hadn’t been told at the Q&A.  Quinn Eades has a rainbow of tattoos and a warm, confiding manner that compels attention.  Soft-voiced Jax Jacki Brown is in a wheelchair and speaks with a definite assertion as she tells her stories.  Big, tall Jacques de Vere has a very slight awkwardness – which is strangely touching – coupled with a sly, dry wit.  Each, of course, brings their own personality to the stories they read to us.

The stories, arranged by subject and theme, and clearly edited by Laura Bridgeman, come from interviews in Europe, the UK, the USA and beyond.  There are – as yet – no Australian stories, but Laura Bridgeman tells us to stay tuned.  As the risk of seeming banal, what this show does is demystify and defy definitions.  These butches are what they are and if it’s taken some a while to know what that is, they’ve got there now.

Michael Brindley

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